Rising mercury levels threaten eco-system

April 20th, 2011 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 20 (IANS) Traces of mercury found in albatross feathers up to 120 years old have helped determine how much sea birds and global systems are being threatened by pollution.

Researchers found that toxic levels of methylmercury, the metal’s poisonous organic form in the sea bird, have steadily increased since the onset of man-made mercury emissions.

Feathers from black-footed albatross specimens stored in two US museum collections between 1880 and 2002 showed alarming increases of mercury concentrated in bodies of birds that had eaten contaminated fish, reports the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research has shown that levels of methylmercury have been increasing in endangered species for more than a century and the pattern closely mirrors that of rising man-made mercury emissions, reports the Daily Mail.

Scientists believe the findings serve as a warning of the mercury threat not just to sea birds, but to vulnerable species in all the world’s ecosystems.

The black-footed albatross forages throughout the Pacific.

Michael Bank from the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study, said: “Methylmercury has no benefit to animal life and we are starting to find high levels in endangered and sensitive species across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems.”

Mercury pollution is chiefly caused by coal-fired power stations and incinerating waste material.

The metal drops out of the air into the sea, where it works its way up the food chain. At each step, as larger species feed on smaller ones, levels of mercury in the body increase.

Consumption of mercury-tainted fish has been linked to impaired neuro-development in children.

Methylmercury attacks the central nervous system, leading to numbness and unsteadiness, tiredness, ringing in the ears and problems with vision.

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