Hair Sampling Shows Mercury Pervasive in Indianapolis

Release Date: 
Sep 23 2011

Local Health Experts Warn of Link between Fish and Power Plant Emissions

Results of tests taken from people in Indianapolis in April revealed that all of them had some amount of toxic mercury in their bodies.

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Bowden Quinn

In April the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter took hair samples from 38 people in Indianapolis, most of whom were local residents. The samples were tested for mercury by the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service. All 38 samples showed traces of mercury; three samples were above the E.P.A.’s health guideline for mercury. These results show that mercury is pervasive in our environment.

Bowden Quinn, conservation program coordinator of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, released these results at a panel session of local health experts and environmental advocates at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis on Friday, Sept. 28.

“These results clearly show that mercury emissions from power plants are affecting people here in Indianapolis,” Quinn said. “We urge the federal government to promptly approve a proposed rule that would reduce mercury emissions by more than 90 percent and save thousands of lives across the country.”

Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director of the Marion County Public Health Department, discussed the health impacts of mercury on those who eat fish, especially women of child-bearing age and women who are pregnant. Her department has posted signs at favorite fishing spots on the White River and other locations to warn of the risk from eating locally caught fish.

Dr. Gabriel Filippelli, IUPUI professor of earth sciences and director of the university’s Center for Urban Health, discussed the results of a study he recently conducted in Indianapolis that showed mercury from local power plants is deposited on the ground and gets into White River sediments, where it is taken up by aquatic organisms, including fish.

“While we appreciate the warning signs that the Marion County Health Department puts up, the only real answer to the problem is to have better pollution controls to reduce the mercury that comes out of power plant stacks,” said Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Indianapolis NAACP. She said the fish contamination is particularly a threat to people who live in the inner city who catch and eat fish in the White River and its tributaries.

Jodi Perras, executive director of Improving Kids’ Environment, described the health threat to infants. “Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can harm the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It is especially dangerous to unborn babies and young children, whose brains and nervous system are still developing.”

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said Indiana should generate more of its electricity from clean renewable energy sources. “Indiana must make replacing dirty coal-fired electric plants with conservation, energy efficiency, distributed generation and commercial-scale renewable energy a top priority, as is occurring at a fast clip in Illinois and Ohio, our neighboring states.”

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