Sarah Whites-Koditschek: Mercury and Climate Change

Milwaukee Sentinel:

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Sarah Whites-Koditschek, WPR

Watras and Rubsam walk onto frozen Little Rock Lake in Vilas County near their base at the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station. They are scientists for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and the state Department of Natural Resources.

After decades of water sampling on Little Rock Lake and two other nearby lakes, Watras concluded that climate change is causing fluctuations in the level of dangerous methylmercury in the environment. That finding added to the list of negative effects of climate change, which include making storms more powerful, increasing the Earth’s temperature and causing polar ice to melt, which causes sea levels to rise. Watras discovered that accumulations of the toxin in fish fluctuate as water cycles driven by climate change raise and lower lake levels. When the water levels go up, Watras found, levels of mercury can increase to unsafe levels in walleye, one of the state’s most prized game fish. When levels go down, concentrations in walleye go down to levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency...

Mark Brigham, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Mounds View, Minnesota, said fluctuating mercury levels could make it harder to know whether fish are safe to eat. People who fish could easily underestimate or overestimate the risk at any given time. “It’s entirely possible that people, when they look at the fish consumption advisories for a given lake, they could be looking at advice that’s out of date or doesn’t reflect current conditions in the lake,” Brigham said.

Adam Hinterthuer: Lake Water Level Changes and Mercury in Fish

Center for Limnology:

A study has found an connection between water levels in lakes and toxic mercury levels in fish. When droughts cause water levels to drop, the levels of mercury found in fish also plummet. In extended periods of wetter weather, water levels rise and levels of mercury in fish increase. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as they examined long-term data from several lakes in northern Wisconsin. In previous work, the researchers had found that, roughly once a decade, water levels in the northwestern Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin’s inland lakes fluctuate between high and low levels and back again.

The scientists turned to 32 years of data on mercury levels in more than 1,300 walleye, a fish popular with anglers and restaurants throughout the Great Lakes region. And when the researchers plotted out that data, they saw a very familiar pattern — mercury levels in walleye follow the 10-year water level fluctuations.

Megan Geuss: EPA Regulation of Mercury Emissions Summary

Ars Technica:

On Friday, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it did not think that current mercury emissions rules placed on coal-fired power plants were “appropriate and necessary,” based on the agency’s revised look at the costs and benefits of the rule...

Consequently, the Trump administration’s EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that it could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future.

And yet the EPA notes that mercury concentration in fish are increasing. Increases in mercury pollution have human consequences.

Eric Freedman: Mercury Levels in the North

Great Lakes Echo:

Mercury levels remain high in the lakes, rivers and fish of the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula despite a substantial decline in airborne mercury emissions over the past 30 years, according to scientists from Michigan Technological University and the Environmental Protection Agency...

The study said, “One of the worst landscapes for mining mercury releases is into a wetland environment.” It identified five problem areas in the Lake Superior Basin in particular: the U.P., Northeast Minnesota and Ontario’s Thunder Bay, Nipigon and Wawa regions.

Environmental Chemicals are Wreaking Havoc to Last a Lifetime

Elizabeth Grossman, writing in Ensia:

BrianAJackson; iStockPhoto

BrianAJackson; iStockPhoto

Some chemicals — lead, mercury and organophosphate pesticides, for example — have long been recognized as toxic substances that can have lasting effects on children’s neurological health, says Bruce Lanphear, health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University. While leaded paint is now banned in the U.S., it is still present in many homes and remains in use elsewhere around the world.

Children can also be exposed to lead from paints, colorings and metals used in toys, even though these uses are prohibited by U.S. law (remember Thomas the Tank Engine), and through contaminated soil or other environmental exposure as well as from plastics in which lead is used as a softener. Mercury exposure sources include some fish, air pollution and old mercury-containing thermometers and thermostats. While a great many efforts have gone into reducing and eliminating these exposures, concerns continue, particularly because we now recognize that adverse effects can occur at exceptionally low levels.

Mercury Levels in the Environment

Erik Stokstad, writing for AAAS:

Peter Buckley, Flickr

Peter Buckley, Flickr

The most comprehensive estimate of mercury released into the environment is putting a new spotlight on the potent neurotoxin. By accounting for mercury in consumer products, such as thermostats, and released by industrial processes, the calculations more than double previous tallies of the amount of mercury that has entered the environment since 1850. The analysis also reveals a previously unknown spike in mercury emissions during the 1970s.

The finding doesn’t indicate a greater risk to human health; scientists already know how much mercury most people are exposed to. But it does show how tighter regulations over the past 4 decades have lowered the total amount of mercury emitted to the global environment—even as some industries in the developing world continue to expand.

When you use mercury, careful you must be. For the mercury poisons back.”

Lake of the Woods Algal Blooms are Worsening

Ron Meador, reporting for MinnPost:

Lee Grim

Lee Grim

Key points from the International Joint Commission’s second “State of the Basin” report, released on Tuesday:

- Massive blooms of blue-green algae are on the rise in Lake of the Woods, despite reductions in flows of phosphorus into upstream lakes and streams from industrial polluters; some of this seems to be driven by phosphorus releases from lake sediments, and some by climate change.
- Rivers in the basin are showing improved water quality, primarily because of controls on paper mills and other industrial sources.
- Walleye, lake trout and sturgeon populations have been recovering as a result of special management efforts, and certain bird populations have returned to healthy levels thanks to reduced pesticide use.
- Mercury levels in fish remain high in many lakes, such that anglers are advised to check the status of public-health advisories before eating any fish caught anywhere in the basin.

IJC State of the Basin Report

We always find what we dumped in.

Mercury Pollution Decreasing in Minnesota

USGS news room:

Methylmercury contamination is decreasing in some lakes in northern Minnesota as a result of reduced mercury pollution, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study. Mercury from man-made pollution is converted in lakes and wetlands to methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury that accumulates in fish.

The study also found that levels of mercury, sulfate and hydrogen ion in precipitation decreased from 1998 to 2012 in northern Minnesota. These decreases likely resulted from reduced atmospheric pollution in the U.S. and Canada, and may have contributed to the reduced methylmercury contamination in the [Voyageurs National] park’s lakes.
J Stephen Conn

J Stephen Conn

Do or do not. There is no try.

BP is polluting Lake Michigan

Chicago Tribune editorial: 

BP, one of the world’s biggest companies, dumps nearly 20 times more toxic mercury into Lake Michigan than federal regulations permit.

This has been known for years, but BP still gets away with it. How? Ask the people of Indiana.

In 2007, a Chicago Tribune investigation documented that Indiana allowed the massive BP refinery in Whiting to increase the amount of pollutants it released into the lake water that’s used by millions of people for drinking, fishing and recreation. Permitting the oil company to dump high levels of mercury, ammonia and suspended solids helped to clear the way for a big expansion of the refinery.