New Report Shows Walden Pond Contaminated by Toxic Mercury Pollution

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Ben Wright

Environment Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts – 124 waterways in Massachusetts have advisories for mercury pollution, according to the latest government data outlined in a new report from Environment Massachusetts.   These advisories instruct citizens to limit their consumption of certain fish in Massachusetts’ waterways due to mercury contamination. Among the waterways under advisory is Walden Pond, considered by many to be the birthplace of the conservation movement.  Overall, more U.S. waterways are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem.

Environment Massachusetts’ report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to finalize a landmark standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in December. This will be the first time in history that EPA limits toxic mercury pollution from power plants, and studies show that when local sources of mercury pollution are cleaned up, concentration levels in waterways rapidly decrease.

The new report, entitled “Toxic Waterways: Mercury Pollution in Massachusetts’ Waters,” found:

  •  124 waterways in Massachusetts have advisories for mercury pollution. Walden Pond is just one of the treasured Massachusetts waterways that is under advisory for mercury pollution. 
  • Massachusetts Health and Human Services advises that all children under twelve, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and nursing mothers not consume Largemouth or Smallmouth Bass from Walden Pond in any amount, and advises that the general public limit their consumption of these fish to two meals per month. 

 “It is appalling that Walden Pond, a national symbol of natural beauty and conservation, should be contaminated by mercury pollution,” said MacKenzie Clark, Field Associate for Environment Massachusetts. “This pollution needs to be cleaned up. The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect our waterways from toxic mercury, and we can’t let big polluters stand in the way.”

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, with 2/3 of all airborne mercury pollution coming from power plants. They emit mercury into our air, which then falls into our waterways with rain or snow, where it builds up in fish and enters the food chain. 

Eating contaminated fish is the main source of human exposure to mercury. For children, mercury exposure can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ.  And for adults, even a low-level dose of mercury from fish consumption can lead to defects similar to those found in children.  Mercury pollution is so widespread that estimates show one in ten women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant.

But while EPA is in the process of working to address this problem by cutting mercury emissions from power plants, industry lobbyists and their allies in Congress are working to keep EPA from doing its job by threatening to block the new mercury standard and other rules that limit dangerous air pollution.  

“EPA’s proposed mercury standard will clean up the poison in Massachusetts waterways, making our fish safer to eat, and our families healthier,” said Clark. “EPA should protect Massachusetts’ families and move forward with the strongest standard possible.”