High Infant Mercury Levels Leads to EPA Grant

By KBJR News 1

October 5, 2012 Updated Oct 5, 2012 at 9:18 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northlands NewsCenter)
-- High levels of mercury are prevalent in infants living in the Lake Superior Basin. A recent study shows that 10% of Minnesota babies have unsafe levels of the neuro-toxin related to mercury.

It's a serious problem that the Minnesota Department of Health is gearing up to fight.

"Boy mercury's been sort of the devil in the details for environmental contamination for the last 200 years."

Communities living near the big lake have a big problem with mercury.

"It's a by product of a lot of industrial processes, it's a byproduct of burning coal for electricity for example." said Andrew Slade with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership in Duluth.

In Minnesota's Lake Superior Basin, one in ten infants have high amounts of mercury in their systems, at levels that can cause major health problems.

Experts say airborne mercury settles in lakes and is consumed by fish which in turn are eaten by humans.

"People like the fish and in some of these communities the primary and traditional source of protein in their diet."

That's why a 1.4 Million dollar grant will be used by the Minnesota Department of Health to study how serious a problem mercury is along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

"The objective of this next project is to develop new and better strategies to address this problem," said Linda Bruemmer with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Two clinics on the North Shore will monitor women of childbearing age, testing their blood for mercury levels and following their fish consumption.

"Minnesota has put a lot of work into their fish consumption advisories, it's still probably not enough work and still work to be done in terms of making people aware of the issue."

Experts know Northlanders enjoy their fish but want to make sure they understand the health ramifications of over-consumption.

The Grand Portage Chippewa Tribal Clinic, and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinics in Grand Portage and Grand Marais, will participate in the testing program.