Oceans Alert believes that the only effective way for bringing about action to diminish mercury poisoning is by pointing out that the destruction of our oceans and waterways is having dangerous effects on human health.
In a study on the mercury poisoning of eastern songbirds, published in March 2005, Dr. David Evers found that the birds had mercury poisoning caused by mercury emissions coming from coal fired power plants in the Midwest. I called Dr. Evers in July, 2006 to ask about the tests they used on the songbirds and their accuracy.
I told him that I believe that the prevailing testing for mercury poisoning in human beings is misleading because a person who eats a lot of fish will show sizable concentration of methylmercury in their hair, blood, and urine. However, if that person stops eating fish, and goes on a chicken or other diet, methylmercury will not be recorded in the new hair growth, will be diminished in the blood and unchelated urine and will not indicate the mercury stored in the proteins of the organs of the body.
Dr. Evers said the situation was different with the songbirds because their diet was consistently a worm and insect diet laden with methylmercury. They found blood and feather samples accurately reflected the toxicity in the birds.
(A distressing additional note is that large, fish-eating species like the common loon contain more mercury than any other birds. And loons in the Northeast show the highest mercury levels of all.)
The major task with humans is to find noninvasive means of testing for and removing mercury from the organs of the body.
Various approaches to testing proved cumbersome and difficult to initiate for several reasons including the need of governmental and other approvals.
It has become apparent to us that cadavers would provide major answers. Hair and tissue samples should be used. Hair samples would show whether or not there is methylmercury in the most recent hair growth. If there is none, and mercury is present in the organs being analyzed, this would show that hair is not a reliable test for mercury poisoning. Plans are underway to implement this approach.