High levels of mercury in Florida's top-level predatory fish

An Environmental Pollutant for Decades

Natural sources of mercury exist in the environment. Still, in Florida, high levels of mercury in the air are a severe threat to human health—originating from power plants fired by coal. Mercury can travel, especially far through the air. After leaving the smokestack, mercury falls to the ground, contaminates waterways, and accumulates in fish. Eating fish is the primary source of human mercury exposure.

To contaminate the ecosystem, mercury must be converted into a neurotoxin called methylmercury. The bacteria responsible for producing methylmercury is a sulfate. Mercury goes into the atmosphere from emissions and returns to the earth's surface with rain that enters our waterways. 

Top-predator fish (largemouth bass, bowfin, and gar) accumulate methylmercury high enough to harm humans and wildlife. It becomes more concentrated as it moves up the food chain. There are "do not eat" fish consumption advisories throughout Florida. 

Florida has recorded some of the highest levels of methylmercury in the United States. The toxic compound was found at high levels in dolphins and fish. It also affects raccoons, alligators, and wildlife that consume fish. Studies have shown mercury as a neurotoxin. Children are most at risk from mercury poisoning. It damages human health by severely damaging the brain and nervous system when in contact with or inhaling. All in all, mercury is one of the most deadly toxic pollutants in the air.

There are different solutions to these growing issues, like limiting pollution at its source, better laws to protect the environment, and establishing limits on pollution that's protective of health. We can also take action through our personal choices by looking for non-toxic solutions.

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Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

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