It isn’t breaking news that mercury is a toxic metal. For years, women and children have been advised to monitor their intake of certain types of fish in order to avoid ingesting the mercury that they contain. A recent study by Ipen has shown just how severe the mercury epidemic is across the world.
The study has found that women of childbearing age (18-44) who reside in countries affected by gold mining, in industrial areas, or in areas where fish are a huge part of the population’s diet contain higher-than-average levels of mercury in their bodies. The data was collected on women who can conceive, as they are the most at risk.
The amount of mercury we get from food isn’t harmful for most people, but mercury can cause significant damage to children and unborn fetuses. Brain damage, loss of IQ, and injury to the kidneys and the heart are all attributed to the consumption of mercury.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of mercury near the surface of many of the world’s oceans has tripled as the result of human pollution. Mercury is dispersed across the globe through the water and air very easily, which can even affect countries not directly impacted by the pollution. The metal can build up inside marine life, which is then passed on to us when we consume fish. The fish most affected by mercury are shark, swordfish, marlin, and tuna.
Coal-fired power plants are one of the primary sources of mercury pollution, and as long as this trade continues, the issue will never be resolved. Places affected by gold mining are the most at risk, followed by industrial areas, and then places where fish is heavily incorporated into a society’s habitual diet.
“Millions of women and children in communities mining gold with mercury are condemned to a future where mercury impairs the health of adults and damages the developing brains of their offspring,” said Yuyun Ismawati from Ipen, the NGO that produced the report.
In August, a group called the Minamata Convention was formed to tackle mercury pollution. They held their first meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on September 24th. They will try to limit the use of mercury in many products by 2020. Banning the international trade of the toxic metal, however, is a goal that seems to be unreachable. The production of mercury may continue in some countries until 2032 due to loopholes in the trade system.
The study on mercury levels in women was conducted in 25 countries, including the USA, Chile, Indonesia, and Kenya. 1,000 women were tested, and 86 percent of them contained levels of mercury over three times higher than the safety threshold set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“Mercury contamination is ubiquitous in marine and freshwater systems around the world,” said David Evers, executive director at the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), which conducted the scientific tests. “This study underscores the importance of global cooperation to address mercury pollution.”
With this study proving that mercury will build up in our bodies over time, hopefully more NGOs will address the issue and put forth an effort to change it.
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