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Mercury’s harmful reach has grown, study suggests

The wood thrush is one of the species found to suffer neurological disorders caused by mercury exposure.

NEW YORK, NY — “The strict new federal standards limiting pollution from power plants are meant to safeguard human health. But they should have an important side benefit, according to a study being released on Tuesday: protecting a broad array of wildlife that has been harmed by mercury emissions.

Songbirds and bats suffer some of the same types of neurological disorders from mercury as humans and especially children do, says the study, “Hidden Risk,” by the Biodiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit organization in Gorham, Me., that investigates emerging environmental threats.

Methylmercury, the most toxic form of the heavy metal, was found to be widespread throughout the Northeast — not just in lakes and rivers, as had already been known, but also in forests, on mountaintops and in bogs and marshes that are home to birds long thought to be at minimal risk.

The new study found dangerously high levels of mercury in several 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.”

— Anthony DePalma, New York Times

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