Alarming New Data Reveals
Dangerous Mercury Levels In Rain
Falling On Midwestern Cities
more on mercury rain

September 14,1999
For Immediate Release:
Tony DeFalco, National Wildlife Federation,  (734) 769-3351
Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, Clean Water Action of MN, (218) 722-8557
Bob Olsgard, Lake Superior Alliance, (715) 635-8171
Alden Lind, Save Lake Superior Association, (218) 525-2692

The serious human health implications of eating fish contaminated with mercury from rain prompted the Federation and 21 state and local partner organizations to launch the Clean the Rain Campaign today.  Designed to alert Americans to the danger mercury poses, the Clean the Rain Campaign will work on the local, state and national levels to reduce these risk.

"We usually think of rain as pure and clean, and that's the way it should be," said Mark Van Putten, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.  "But this report reveals that rain falling over Midwestern cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Duluth contains as much as 65 times the EPA 'safe' level of mercury, which holds out extremely serious health implications for both humans and wildlife."

The report includes mercury contamination levels in rain and how they compare to EPA safe levels for human health in a number of Midwestern urban centers:

Mercury is a potent toxin, and when ingested in even tiny amounts can cause devastating effects on the human nervous system, especially for children and the unborn.  Associated illnesses include brain, lung and kidney damage and even death in humans.  In wildlife, mercury is a reproductive hazard that can cause harmful effects on species such as frogs, rainbow trout, zebra fish, mallard and American black ducks, loons and terns.

"Clean Water Action is urging Commissioner Studders and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to continue to take a leadership role in initiating discussions with their counterparts in the region to develop a Great Lakes mercury action plan," said Rosie Loeffler-Kemp for Minnesota's Clean Water Action.  "The plan needs to include aggressive strategies and requirements for coal-fired powerplants," she added.

Coal contains trace amounts of mercury that are released into the air as it is burned for energy. When medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure cuffs or household items like fluorescent lights, lamps and thermostats are discarded and burned, the residual mercury is emitted into the atmosphere.

"Coal-fired powerplants, incinerators and taconite processing are the three top sources of mercury emissions in Minnesota," said Bob Olsgard, Coordinator for the Lake Superior Alliance.  "When you total the mercury emissions of taconite processing and one power plant in northeastern Minnesota alone you get nearly half a ton of mercury emitted in the Lake Superior basin," added Olsgard.  "Add in sources in Marquette and Thunder Bay and you have nearly a ton of mercury emissions in the basin," Olsgard noted.

"While the news of the danger raining down from our skies is frightening, much can be done at the local, state and national levels to reduce the risk," said Tony DeFalco, Lake Superior Project Organizer with the National Wildlife Federation.  "Around Lake Superior, powerplants, medical and municipal waste incinerators and taconite processing all need to curtail their mercury emissions," DeFalco added.

The Clean the Rain Campaign calls on major industry to drastically reduce emissions and asks citizens to help cut mercury pollution by conserving energy, not purchasing consumer products that contain mercury, or if they do purchase them, disposing of them properly.  The Campaign also calls on federal and state governments to more closely monitor mercury levels in rainfall.

To see the full NWF report, click here.

 The nation's largest member-supported conservation advocacy and education group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife, and the world we all share.  The Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition since 1936.  Its common-sense approach to environmental protection brings individuals, organizations, and governments together to ensure a brighter future for people and wildlife.

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