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Study: Mercury in Everglades comes from distant sources

man and fish
Mercury was first detected in fish living in the Everglades almost 10 years ago  
February 13, 1998
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)
From Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella

MIAMI (CNN) -- Each year, the alligators, fish, wading birds and other various creatures in the wildlife metropolis of the Everglades consume potentially deadly amounts of the toxic metal mercury.

Scientists say mercury found in parts of the Everglades, and in some of its animal population, is seven times higher than federal safety limits. The high levels have remained constant since mercury was first detected in largemouth bass nearly a decade ago.

And a just-completed study has concluded that most of the mercury in the waters of the Everglades comes from thousands of miles away.

Gaseous mercury, poured into the atmosphere naturally and by human industry, is traveling on trade winds from as far away as Europe and Africa. Some 900 pounds a year is then "scrubbed" out of the atmosphere by Florida thunderstorms and dumped in the Everglades.

"Of the mercury getting into the Everglades each year, at least 95 percent of it is coming out of the air," says Tom Atkeson, mercury coordinator of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

CNN's John Zarrella reports
icon 2 min. 13 sec. VXtreme video

When it comes to mercury pollution, the Everglades just happen to be in the wrong place. The giant swampy preserve lies in the path of trade winds, and the climate is perfect for the type of thunderstorms that pull mercury out of the air.

And if future research supports the results of this initial study, there may not be much the state can do. Indeed, some scientists believe these latest findings will prove that mercury is a global problem.

mercury warning
mercury warning  

"Florida's not unique," says Atkeson. "Mercury advisories to fishermen have been issued for at least a portion of the fresh waters in over 40 of the United States, thousands of lakes in Canada, all of Scandinavia and much of Europe and Asia."

In humans, regularly eating fish contaminated with mercury can cause brain damage and blindness. Mercury can also be transferred from a pregnant mother to her child.

The state of Florida warns against eating fish from the Everglades. Periodically, researchers survey area fishermen, taking hair samples to analyze for mercury levels.


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