Why it matters
3rd November 2007
Mercury is still at dangerously high levels in sport-caught fish in the Great Lakes, but it would only take a few years to change if we clean up our act now
Will we ever be able to sauté fresh perch from the Great Lakes again? Scientists have long known that mercury from coal-fired plants and metal smelters can end up on our dinner plates – but they weren’t sure if toxins in freshwater fish came from current pollution or from old contaminants leaching from soil and sand into lake water. To solve this puzzle, researchers from a dozen institutions in the U.S. and Canada added large amounts of a signature form of mercury, called an isotope, to an isolated lake in Northwestern Ontario. Then they traced how long it took for the isotope to wind up in the food chain. The result: Three years.
This study is good news for both environmentalists and gourmands. It shows that mercury levels in fish could fall within a few years if new inputs are curbed. But industry may be less chuffed, since this research also confirms that centuries of smokestacks are less to blame for toxins in fish than dumping going on right now.
Trent University’s Holger Hintelman, one of the researchers who conducted this study, says that “we can certainly make fish safer for consumption” within a few years.
Published in The Green Report in The Globe and Mail