Sunday, January 27, 2013

How much does MethyMercury (MeHg) pollution cost in EuroZone? Ten billion euros!

No matter how poisonous it is to the brain, especially to infants, children and fetuses, mercury pollution seems unavoidable, especially if you live in a developing country where regulation and alternatives seem nonexistent or very expensive. Name it – either from plants manufacturing chlorine bleach, detergents or shoes, or firms where Polylvinyl Chloride (a.k.a PVC) is part of the production process, then mercury pollution is part of the problems we have to bear.

Remote print
According to the environmental protection agency (EPA), the waste that is left for many days in your kitchen, medical waste and incinerators that are used to burn these wastes also emit mercury into the atmosphere. In countries with coal mining industries, mercury is emitted into the atmosphere through coal-fired plants, or cement industries that fire kilns run by coal. The worst culprit, tralala!, is gold mining. Thousands of pounds of mercury are released when that wonderful metal is heated for separation and not only into the air, directly into underground water.

Pollution does not only contaminate the waters, air and land, it also makes us sick and sometimes, the costs in ill-health and lost working days run into the billions. So, is it with mercury pollution.

Mercury pollution works by bioaccumulation and bioconcentration.

If ecosystems and food chains were as simple as an artists imagination, there would be less problems from pollution and human negative impacts.
Unlike greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide which directly pollutes your lungs and gives you cancer and ill-health, mercury pollution works indirectly. Mercury pollution works by bioaccumulation and bioconcentration.

Bioaccumulation is the process of taking in a pollutant such as mercury and then storing them in the body . After mercury is released into the air and water through the sources which I outlined above, the eventual media for mercury reaction to take place is water. Whether in soils containing water or in bodies of water, there are some organisms that methylate mercury or add methyl compound to mercury, thereby transforming it to methylmercury (MeHg). Methylmercury, not mercury on its own, is the devil to be afraid of. MeHg is a neurotoxin, damages the brain and impairs neuromotor development. Methylmercury accumulates in tiny plants and animals which are the start of the food chain. By a series, whether short or lengthy, of consumption patterns, MeHg accumulates in the food chain and into our meals.

First, tiny plants (or phytoplanktons) and animals (or zooplanktons) take up MeHg. These are then eaten up by other animals, accumulating it. Eventually big fishes and animals like Tilapia eat these other fishes and also accumulate MeHg. Finally, you and I take up these poisons into our system when we catch and make these big fishes part of our meals. The higher the organism is in the food chain, or the bigger the size of the organism, the higher the amount of MeHg poison you will find in it. This means that by eating big fishes like Tilapia contaminated with methylMercury, you stand a high chance of having it in your system. This process is called bioconcentration, the higher an organism is in the food chain, the higher its concentration of methylmercury.

The cost is extremely high

MeHg pollution attacks the nervous system, whether in adults or children, although children, fetuses and infants are more vulnerable. It damages the nervous system. It can stop your nerves from working well; can affect the workings of your memory such that you can no longer keep attention when needed; it can affect how your limbs work, and furthermore, it can affect how your eyes calculates space such that you could mistakenly fall down from a story building without realizing it. In health and human terms, the cost is enormous.

A team of researchers wanted to find out the effect of MeHg poisoning in 17 European countries by collecting hair samples from mothers and their children. They found that 1.8 million children are born exposed to toxic levels of MeHg, and of these, about 13% (i.e 232,000) are exposed to hazardous levels. By country analyses showed that children born in Portugal and Spain were most exposed, while Hungarian children were the least.

A member of the research team, Prof. Philippe Grandjean, explained that converting the effects of MeHg on developing brains into IQ points would mean that controlling MeHg pollution equates to 700,000 IQ points per year that would be salvaged; translated into monetary benefits, these is equal to between 8 billion to 9 billion euros per year for the whole of the European Union . Controlling exposure levels in European countries is certainly worth the effort.

The task of controlling MeHg is everyone’s responsibility.

Although MeHg seems unavoidable, the task of controlling it is everyone’s responsibility. Reducing exposure to safety limits should be the goal of every country. Many corporations are going green these days. You can encourage your local power supplier to do the same. When buying items like shoes, bags, and detergents, ask about the manufacturing process. Read the labels. Make sure PVC was not used in the production process. Ask experts in your local community about this if you are in doubt. Keep yourself informed concerning health, safety and environmental issues.

Doing the above, as well as other safety measures, will go a long way in either ensuring you are free from MeHg poisoning, or you chose a lifestyle that will ensure your exposure to MeHg is below the safe limit of 0.58µg/g recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

As of writing this article, a yahoo online news article reports that [u.n clinches global deal on cutting mercury emissions more than 140 countries have agreed on the first global treaty to cut mercury pollution through a blacklist of household items and new controls on power plants and small-scale mines, the United Nations said on Saturday, January 19.The treaty will take between three to five years to come into effect. This is welcome news for world health. I pray the UN does achieve its goals.

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