Study Finds 10% of Newborns Around Lake Superior with High Mercury Levels

The Minnesota Department of Health has released the findings of a two-year study of mercury levels in the blood of newborns along the shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The results?

Ten percent (10%) of newborns in Minnesota had unhealthy levels of mercury in their bloodstream. They had suffered environmental poisoning before they even had a chance to take a breath. (Three percent of Wisconsin newborns had unhealthy levels of mercury. None of the newborns in Michigan were affected.)Elevated levels of mercury lower IQ, cause learning and developmental disabilities, result in birth defects and cerebral palsy, and even deafness and blindness. Some of the 1,465 infants tested had up to 1,000 times the safe level of mercury in their system.

Researchers found more mercury in infants born in the summer and suggested it was due to the mother consuming fish from the lake. (It seems hard to imagine that Minnesota mothers eat more fish than Wisconsin and Michigan mothers along the same lakeshore so I wonder what other factors would be at play in creating such significant geographic differences.)

The MN Dept of Health tells mothers not to eat fish. Clearly that’s good advice right now, but fish is one of the healthiest meats available to us when it’s not poisoned – and its almost free, a real benefit for poor families living near Lake Superior. Rather than tell us to avoid food, the Department of Health should be a leading voice in the effort to make our food and water safer.

Mercury finds its way into the food supply primarily as precipitates from coal-fired power plants. The EPA is expected to publish new Mercury and Toxics Standards (MATS) in a few days as it seeks to curb mercury emissions from coal-burning plants by 90%. Of course, a certain political party has pledged to fight those new standards.

Developing fetuses cannot protect themselves. It’s up to the mothers and fathers of Minnesota to fight for them.

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