A new study came out Tuesday from the Biodiversity Research Institute, a non-profit organization in Gorham, ME., that investigates this and other emerging environmental threats. They are find new research showing dangerously high levels of mercury in many Northeastern bird species, including rusty blackbirds, saltmarsh sparrows and wood thrushes.
Previous studies have shown mercury’s effects on loons and other fish-eating waterfowl, as well as bald eagles, panthers and otters. In one study, zebra finches lost the ability to hit high notes in mating songs when mercury levels rose, affecting reproduction.
“We’re seeing many other species in a much larger landscape of harm from mercury,” said the principal author, David C. Evers, who is the institute’s executive director. He called the EPA’s new stricter federal mercury standards, adopted last month and scheduled to take effect over the next four years, “an excellent step forward in reducing and minimizing the impact on ecosystems and improving ecological health, and therefore our own health.”
Most of this mercury exposure comes from the exhaust air when coal is burned in power plants. The gaseous mercury can drift hundreds of miles before settling back to earth, sometimes along with rain. The mercury can be absorbed by tree leaves, absorbed into plants and the soil, entering our natural food chain. Bacteria in the soil and other organisms can convert this mercury into the organic form, methyl mercury, a powerful neurotoxin.
The neurological and reproductive damage is spreading and getting more pronounced in many of the ecological species and mimic the effects of mercury on humans whose primary exposure is the mercury-silver fillings in their mouths.
“It’s incredibly important that someone is following what is happening to these birds,” said Joanna Burger, a behavioral ecologist at Rudgers University who has studied mercury contamination in animals. “The birds not only act as sentinels to what is happening in nature, but the results of these studies propose hypotheses for effects that have not yet been identified for people.”
Stay tune for more news and updates on the effects of mercury in our environment at www.wellnessdentalcare.com. I welcome any questions and comments that you may have on these important issues.
Rev. Dr. Stephen A. Lawrence