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Metro Detroit Greens (Wayne, Oakland & Macomb Counties)

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Midwest Rains Contain Mercury

copyleft by Art Myatt

The National Wildlife Federation has reported the results of testing rainwater in 20 midwestern cities and towns. The technology to do this has only existed since the mid-1990s, so there is no historical record for the figures.

In Chicago, the rain held 42 times as much mercury as the EPA considers "safe." Along the Illinois/Wisconson border, the result was 56 times higher. Here in Detroit, rain had 65 times the EPA standard. Likely the count varies from one time to another in any given place, but these figures are frightening.

We are used to thinking of rainwater as clean and pure. For previous generations, it was the best sort of drinking water. Now it is not fit to drink, and it is not clear how much longer lake or ground water throughout the region will be fit to drink.

Mercury causes brain and other nervous system damage along with lung and kidney damage in humans, especially in children, infants, and developing fetuses. In wildlife, and possibly in humans as well, it is a reproductive hazard.

The effects of mercury poisoning are chemical in nature, but mercury itself should be called an elemental, rather than a chemical poison. With a chemical compound, there is the possibility of eliminating it by changing it chemically. Elements, however, cannot be destroyed by any practical means. In a nuclear reaction sduch as in a high-energy particle beam, they can be transformed into other elements. Mercury contamination is now present throughout the waters of the Great Lakes, and beyond. Running all the waters of the Lakes through a mercury eliminating beam is just not possible.

Mercury accumulates in the lakes (great and small) of the region. It gets into the base of the food chain and becomes more and more concentrated at higher levels of that chain. It is already unsafe to eat the fish that come from the Great Lakes, especially for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Our environment is in process of destruction - but it does not have to be.

Nationally, more than a third of mercury emissions come from coal-fired power plants, with the remainder coming from municipal waste incinerators and medical waste incinerators," says Peter Moorman, of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "In the Great Lakes Region, coal combustion causes over half the mercury emissions."

The way to stop mercury emissions could not be more clear. Drastically reduce the allowed levels of smokestack emissions, and shut down the smokestacks that will not comply. If this causes less energy to be produced, then initiate measures to conserve energy. This would help, not just with mercury pollution, but with global warming emissions as well.

But it would harm "the economy," by which both the Democratic and Republican Parties mean "corporate profits and stock prices." Therefore, you won't hear, in the course of any election campaign, anything about a crisis of mercury in the rain from either of these parties.

You did hear it from the Green Party in the general election of 2000. And now that the election is over, you're still hearing it.


Art Myatt is a photovoltaic engineer and technical writer at Energy Conversion Devices in Troy, MI.


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