Roger Clark, program director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said he wasn’t surprised by the higher mercury levels because of 17 coal-fire power plants in Arizona’s region of the Colorado Plateau.
“The cumulative effect of coal plants are certainly being felt throughout the West,” Clark said. “They are the largest single source of mercury contamination in the region.”
Mercury becomes concentrated as it goes up the food chain into larger predators, because a large trout might eat 10 insects that consumed mercury, said Jonathan Evans, a toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Even small amounts of mercury are highly toxic, so power plant pollution can have a devastating impact on wildlife and human health,” Evans said. “It’s one of the continued problems of our fossil fuel addiction.”
Dahl, from the National Parks Conservation Association, said higher levels of mercury shouldn’t be in Arizona’s waterways, whatever the source.
“We all want the cleanest possible Colorado River water, so whenever there’s any indication of something as toxic as mercury, even though it’s naturally occurring, we don’t want to be drinking mercury. We don’t want to be eating things that have mercury in them,” Dahl said.
Alicyn Gitlin, Grand Canyon program coordinator for the Sierra Club, said the only sure way to prevent such contaminants is moving to cleaner energy.
“The place where we should have some of the cleanest air in the country, we have coal-fired power plants releasing chemicals like mercury into the environment and that is harming the fish,” Gitlin said.
©2014 Cronkite News Service
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