Monday, May 5, 2008

Wisconsin Businesses Say "Eat Your Mercury."

Hey, Wisconsin anglers and all those who love a good fish fry:

Many of the same people who want state water conservation laws weakened, oppose wider affordable health care coverages and want to block Federal rules to ensure better, breathable air have a new cause that breaks new ground for greed and inhumanity:

Stopping proposed state rules that would further limit airborne mercury pollution - - with a lawsuit.

Mercury is a known, fatal pollutant that finds its way into the food chain by traveling from coal-burning furnaces to fish in nearby waters.

A small amount is toxic, but the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and eight allied groups want to block the state Department of Natural Resources from adopting tougher rules to prevent mercury from leaving Wisconsin smokestacks and polluting local waters.

Several Wisconsin environmental organizations support the stronger rules.

Their statement is here, and the information is appreciated.

In the last paragraph of the release before the "fast facts," the date 201o should read 2012, according to a corrected statement Monday from Midwest Environmental Advocates, Wisconsin Environment, Sierra Club, Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers, Mercury Free Wisconsin and Clean Wisconsin.

Here are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who obviously represent a wide swath of Wisconsin business through trade association.

(And thanks to the Daily Reporter for the news and listing) :

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (How will their two, newly-minted State Supreme Court justices votes when the inevitable challenge lands on their desks)

Wisconsin Builders Association

Wisconsin Paper Council

Wisconsin Utility Investors Association, Inc.

Wisconsin Independent Energy Group, Inc.

Wisconsin Cast Metals Association, Inc.

Midwest Food Producers Association, Inc.

Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin, Inc.

Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Inc.


Dave1 said...

At some point our ability to measure mercury surpasses or ability to control it.

For some people only "zero" will be enough, even though it is impossible to achieve.

For the real world .... some industries (who don't even handle mercury containing materials) can't legally discharge rainwater (which is typically 6-9 parts per trillion) as WI wants a limit of 1.3 ppt (at least for Lake Superior)

We as a nation have made great strides in reducing mercury emissions, which is a great achievement, but at some point we must stop chasing "zero".

China is a huge emitter and much of that mercury winds up in northern WI lakes. The other huge emitter is volcanoes ... let's find a way to regulate them ... right?

James Rowen said...

To Dave1;

No one is arguing for zero emissions.

Find a better straw man.

Dave1 said...

A few years ago we measured in parts per million and that's where the limits were.

Then we developed better tests and could measure to parts per billion. So naturally the limits were reduced.

Now we have lab tests that measure in parts per trillion. So that's where the standards are being set.

You are right in that you can't shoot for zero, but what's next, parts per gazillion?

As soon as we can measure it there, someone will claim that "we must protect the environment! Mercury is a killer!"

Did you see the study of tuna flesh preserved at the Smithsonian? Samples of tuna from the 1860s measured with todays technology found mercury. It was at similar levels as tuna today. Twenty years ago, they would havce detected "zero".

Dave1 said...

Maybe not in this particular lawsuit. I'd also agree that the coal fired power industry is particularly nasty when it comes to mercury.

However, the way proposed reulations are headed for the rest of state industries, it won't be pretty.

Did you know that when pulling a water sample for mercury, the technician must wear a face mask? Otherwise the mercury in his / her dental fillings will contaminate the sample (just from breathing) at the limits we're living under. Doesn't that sound a bit crazy to you?

Anonymous said...


Much of what you have described sounds like an increase in the accuracy that instruments can now measure mercury content compared against those of decades ago. I should clarify that by saying more accurate with respect to _sample size_, because we could always increase accuracy by increasing our sample size, i.e., a bigger piece of fish muscle.

I don't find it crazy that someone making mercury measurements should wear a mask. It ensures that the test results are less likely to be possibly contaminated. In some cases it may not make a difference, but it is good scientific practice to rule out contamination.

Could you please give a source for the statement about mercury levels in tuna caught in the 1860s? I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I tried finding such a study on the Internet and couldn't find it. I did, however, find a statement in this 2002 article

suggesting (Assertion #3) a similar 1972 study with the conclusion you state was discredited in 1974. The problem was that mercuric chloride was a commonly used preservative in the 1860s. The above article itself isn't very scientific, so if you have a more substantial source that would be good to see.

This paper gives a precise description of the process used to measure mercury:

Basically, muscle tissue is processed to be homogenized and then burned in a stream of oxygen, to free up the mercury and then capture it. The device that does this is the Milestone Direct Mercury Analyzer (DMA-80):

(Oxygen + fire... don't try this at home.)

You've stated:

"A few years ago we measured in parts per million and that's where the limits were.

Then we developed better tests and could measure to parts per billion. So naturally the limits were reduced."

Is this true? Because of more accurate devices with greater resolution, the amount of allowable mercury for consumption advisory has been reduced?

Here is a Smithsonian article on people studying how mercury eventually finds its way into tuna, an ocean fish not a fresh water fish:

(Someone from UW-LaCrosse is referenced.) One thing I find interesting is a statement about mercury levels in fish from 1971. I wonder, did researchers still have the fish from 1971 and the fish were retested recently? If not, it would mean that your statement:

"Twenty years ago, they would havce detected "zero"."

doesn't ring true. The research article abstract is here:

but the authors imprecisely worded their findings (not good). Since I'm too cheap to buy the article for a blog argument, let's leave this open.

But here's an extensive study:

which describes the FDA requirements of 1985 as:

"In 1985, EPA established its first RfD for people who eat methylmercurycontaminated fish at 0.3 micrograms of methylmercury (:g) per kilogram of body weight (kgbw) per day. This is equivalent to about 126 :g of methylmercury per week (roughly the amount in two 7-ounce servings of fish containing 0.3 ppm mercury) for a person weighing 132 pounds. This dose is based on the lowest level of exposure that produced adverse effects on the nervous systems (i.e., numbness and tingling in the extremities) of adult Iraqis after they were poisoned by eating contaminated grain during 1971-1972 and adult Japanese who ate contaminated fish from Minamata Bay during the mid-1950s."

They talk of 0.3 ppm. Could researchers not detect 0.3 ppm in 1985? How about 1971? Notice this is an indirect measurement. The Hg is extracted and measured, then the ppm must be computed comparing against the original volume of fish muscle. The measuring of the Hg is probably what has become more accurate over the years. Again, one could increase the amount of fish (grain) burned in the oxygen stream to get a greater resolution of mercury percentage.

At this point, I'm boring myself.

Anyway, this comes back to the assumption that greater accuracy means the advisory is lowered. According to the quotation from above, the level is set based on first signs of adverse effects.

Here's another quotation:

"Two years after EPA set its RfD, data were published showing adverse effects of maternal mercury exposure on the development of Iraqi children who were exposed
in the womb. In 1995, EPA revised its RfD, basing it on these developmental effects. This second RfD of 0.1 :g/kgbw/day (42 :g per week for a person weighing 132 pounds) remains in effect. This level would be exceeded if a 132-pound person ate more than one fish meal per week, and the fish contained more than 0.21 ppm of mercury."

I include it because this result too is based on a study of Iraqis. To veer off topic. Poor Iraqis; if mercury poisoning wasn't bad enough, then came Operation Iraqi Liberation/Freedom.