New report highlights mercury pollution impacts on ecosystems

The Ecological Society of America, Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), the Great Lakes Commission and the Northeast-Midwest Institute, cosponsored a Congressional briefing entitled: “Mercury and Air Pollution Impacts on Ecosystems: Policy-Relevant Highlights from New Scientific Studies.”

WASHINGTON, DC — “According to the report, emissions of mercury to the air (and subsequent deposition) are now the primary source of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes region. Twenty-six percent of mercury deposition in Canada and the continental United States is from the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that has been altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the entire food-chain of an ecosystem. Plants take up the toxin and are subsequently fed upon by plant-eating insects and fish, which in turn are consumed by insectivores and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl and humans.

A number of bird species were found to have ‘high sensitivity’ to mercury pollution, including the American Kestrel, the American White Ibis, the Snowy Egret, the Osprey and the Tri-Colored Heron.  The study notes that the U.S.  national bird, the Bald Eagle, is also negatively impacted by mercury, with effects that  include ‘subclinical neurological damage.’ The Bald Eagle was removed from being listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. It was declared a federally endangered species from 1967-1995.

The speakers noted that fish polluted with mercury can have detrimental impacts on the local economy and human health.”

— Terence Houston, Ecological Society of America

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