What is mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal found throughout the environment (soil, fossil fuels, minerals), with many harmful health effects. Poisonous mercury can be absorbed via inhalation, through our skin and when we eat.
Mercury exists in the environment in 3 forms:
- elemental (e.g., in thermometers, tooth fillings)
- inorganic (e.g., batteries, disinfectants)
- organic (e.g., methylmercury in fish, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, some vaccines)
On the bottom of this page you will find a list of many links to other pages on our website looking into this issue in depth. Highly recommended!
Source: Patrick L. Mercury toxicity and antioxidants: Part I: Role of glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid in the treatment of mercury toxicity. Altern Med Rev 2003;7:456-471.
Mercury’s not essential in our diet. In fact, it’s one of the most potent toxic elements on the planet.
INTAKE OF MERCURY IN IRELAND
Estimated intake of mercury: data for 3 food categories. The most important is fish (6.44 µg –1.72% PTWI) The sum of mercury intake of food categories is 9.59 µg/week, corresponding to 2.56 % of the PTWI. The intake estimated on the basis of the occurence of mercury is 1.37 µg/day in fish, molluscs, crustaceans, meat and offals. Fish represents 67.2% of this value.
Analytical Quality Assurance. Laboratories have participated in proficiency tests programs; results regarding use of certified reference materials are reported.
Our comment: This data acknowledges the dangers in food products containing traces of mercury, but does not fully reflect the total exposure (other than food sources) to toxic mercury of Irish population due to limitations of testing and sourcing information.
Several disasters have occurred when mercury found its way into the food supply.
- Minamata Bay (Japan): Organic mercury was dumped into Minamata Bay in the 1950s. Fish in the bay were contaminated and about 2,000 people who ate these fish became poisoned. About 7% of the children born to mothers who ate contaminated fish had neurological problems. Symptoms in these children included uncoordinated movement, abnormal reflexes, seizures and speech problems. Some adults also had neurological problems such as visual disorders, shaking (tremors), weakness, nausea, hearing loss, depression, confusion, loss of appetite and memory problems. A total of 46 people died as a result of mercury exposure.
- Iraq: In 1972, approximately 6,500 people fell ill and 459 people died after eating bread baked with wheat contaminated with a mercury-based fungicide.
- Faroe Islands (North Atlantic): A study started in 1984 investigated the effects of methyl mercury exposure on children born to mothers who ate contaminated whale meat. Researchers found that children (seven years old) who were born to mothers with a 10-20 ppm mercury count had lower language, attention and memory scores than those children born to mothers with lower mercury levels. Interestingly, a study performed in the Seychelles Islands (Indian Ocean) did not reveal any effects on children born to mothers who had mercury hair levels of 10 ppm.
Our Note: This paper admits to the global problem but does not include all the data from all the sources of mercury toxicity
Mercury Levels Are on the Rise, But Why?
Barry Kohl, Ph.D. is an adjunct professor in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Tulane University. At the conference he provided a unique overview of the impact of industrialization on environmental mercury levels through a description of the levels of mercury in the ice core extracted from the pristine Freemont Glacier in Wyoming.
There were small peaks in mercury concentration in the ice core from the 1815 Tambora volcanic eruption in Indonesia, the 1850-84 gold rush in California where mercury was used for smelting, the eruption in 1883 of the Sumatran volcano Krakatau 10,000 miles away, and the more recent Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980.
Over all, the changes in environmental mercury levels have been dramatic. Over the past 100 years, there has been a 30-fold increase in mercury deposition, 70 percent of which is from human sources. In fact, there was an exponential peak in mercury occurring in the last 40 years due to major industrialization. Much of this mercury comes from coal-fired industrial plants and from chlor-alkali plants that use mercury in the process of making chlorine used in plastics, pesticides, PVC pipes, and more.
One note of hope was the reduction in industrial mercury emissions from 220 million pounds to 120 million pounds a year over the last 10 years. But that’s small consolation when we’re talking about a substance that is toxic in parts per million, not in millions of pounds.
And the more mercury we are exposed to, the more we are likely we are to be toxic and sick.
Mercury levels in Americans rose from 2% in 1999 to 30% in 2006
Where Else We Are Exposed To Mercury
Mercury can be introduced into the food supply in a variety of ways, most commonly as a byproduct of pollution. Burning fossil fuels i.e. coal-burning power plants and mining (mercury is used to extract gold) emit inorganic mercury vapor into the atmosphere. This mercury floats around and eventually settles into waterways, where it’s organified to methylmercury by microorganisms.
The mercury cycle: How mercury enters the food chain
Mercury exposure is the second most common toxic metal poisoning in North America. The greatest risk comes from the mercury we consume in our diet (methylmercury).
Worldwide, China is the largest source of human related mercury pollution (mainly from coal/metal). And in the 1970s a methylmercury based fungicide was used to treat grains in Iraq — this caused 450 deaths and 5000 illnesses.
Mercury In Seafood?
Mercury accumulates in tissues, in both fish and humans. It can be found in fish because of environmental pollution of the rivers and seas. Larger and older fish have higher levels because they eaten more, so they accumulate more. Farmed fish tend to have lower methylmercury levels because they have a shorter life span and enhanced growth rates (thus, bioaccumulation is lessened).
Paula Dorf Cake Mascara (raven) contains thimerosal (the mercury-containing preservative) (#CosmeticsDatabase). Avoid mascara, skin lightening creams, or any cosmetic product that lists mercury or thimerosal in the ingredients. To find specific products to avoid, search the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database.
It Is Closer To Home Than You May Have Expected (check our links):
- Heavy Metal Toxicity Questionnaire (click here)
Mercury In Vaccines, together with other neurotoxin – Aluminum. For more info (click here)
- List of symptoms of mercury toxicity
Tooth Amalgam Removals (click here)