The Engineer's Notebook Blog

The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

Previous in Blog: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 2)   Next in Blog: "Magical" Christmas Origins
Close
Close
Close
17 comments

The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

Posted December 14, 2008 5:02 PM by Steve Melito

"We were born to mothers who smoked and drank. Our cribs were covered in lead-based paint. No child proof lids. No seat belts in cars. Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are." So sings Bucky Covington in "A Different World", a ballad about how the way things used to be. If Mr. Covington visited North Adams, Massachusetts, he might have something to say about the recent spill of elemental mercury at the Conte Middle School there. And he just might update his song with a line like "We used to play with mercury. And our 21st birthday we did live to see".

Yes, kids used to play with liquid mercury from broken thermometers. But as we learned in Part 2 of this four-part series, inhalation (not touch) is the primary method of exposure to this hazardous substance. So what about ingestion? And what about the lunch lady's Bucky Covington-like arguments that no one ever died from eating burnt fish sticks? Is school food really that bad for you?

Mercury in Fish

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a great Web page called "What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish". Although, as the EPA reports, "nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury," the agency notes that "for most people, the risk from mercury from eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern." In conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the EPA even provides guidelines for the maximum amount of fish that different populations can eat in a week.

But let's be clear about something. The mercury in fish isn't the same as the substance that forced the closing of the Conte Middle School. Although elemental mercury is naturally-occurring, mercury is also an airborne industrial pollutant. When mercury falls from the air, this substance accumulates in bodies of water and becomes methylmercury. Fish that feed in these polluted waters accumulate methylmercury in their tissues. Humans eat these fish and ingest this toxic substance. As the EPA reports, "methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it make take over a year for levels to drop significantly."

So what if you splurge on a second helping of fish sticks or chow down a classroom sized can of tuna fish? If fish sticks (a staple of school lunches) are your vice, then you probably don't have much to worry about. According to the EPA, "fish sticks and 'fast-food' sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury." Canned tuna generally contains less mercury than tuna steaks, so don't press the panic button if you're about to sprout gills. But avoid next week's tuna melt, especially if you're pregnant, expecting to become pregnant, a nursing mother, or a young child.

The Potomac Two-Step

So how dangerous is mercury in fish? Unfortunately, the answer sounds just like it came from our nation's capital (which it did). In short, it depends - on who you are, what kind of fish you eat, and how much you consume over a given period of time.

Editor's Note: Click here for the final installment in this series. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are also on-line.

Resources:

http://www.elyrics.net/read/b/bucky-covington-lyrics/a-different-world-lyrics.html

http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/advice/

------------------------------

Steve Melito

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Guru
United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 1160
Good Answers: 36
#1

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/14/2008 10:13 PM

At least when you eat fish, the mercury is (or seems to be) due to a natural occurrence. Fish is definitely less processed than that of our high-fructose corn syrup-ed cereals and whatnot. I prefer a can of tuna over those cereals any day - slight trace of mercury or not.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#2
In reply to #1

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/15/2008 2:52 AM

Most stuff we eat is probably contaminated one way or another. The best option is to eat a mix of contaminants. A little bit of heavy metal fish, a little bit of radioactive lamb, a selection of pesticides on fruit & veg.

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru
United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 1160
Good Answers: 36
#3
In reply to #2

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/15/2008 8:00 AM

yum yum yum. Could you pass me the pesticide ridden mint jelly please?

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
Hobbies - Model Rocketry - New Member

Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: East of Seattle, Washington state Republic of the 50 states of America
Posts: 2046
Good Answers: 36
#16
In reply to #2

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/18/2008 8:09 PM

I heavy on the preservatives, cause I need all the preservatives I can get.

__________________
(Larrabee's Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#17
In reply to #16

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/19/2008 3:23 AM

LOL ! I've been pickling myself for years - when the eventually take me down the crematorium it'll probably create a fireball that can be see from space .

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Anonymous Poster
#4

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/15/2008 11:05 AM

Interesting article but thank you for tuning me into a great singer, Bucky Covington! I download this song, it's great!!!! And yes, I am from that era and I'm still alive and kicking!!!

KG

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Guru
United States - Member - New Member Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Popular Science - Weaponology - Organizer Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Engineering Fields - Nuclear Engineering - New Member

Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 3464
Good Answers: 32
#6
In reply to #4

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/15/2008 2:40 PM

You're welcome, KG! Hope you'll come back to CR4 and register with us.

- Moose

Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Power-User
Engineering Fields - Mechanical Engineering - BSME Clarkson University 1992 Engineering Fields - Software Engineering - BSME Clarkson University 1992 Fans of Old Computers - TRS-80 - DataRock 1.0

Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Troy, NY
Posts: 401
Good Answers: 3
#5

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/15/2008 11:50 AM

Hi Moose - I thought some of the environmentally-minded folks I've been following in the local NYS/Capital Region media over the years were taking the mercury hazard a bit too far when they got their blood tested for mercury content a few years ago. But now, with what you write, I'm hoping a check for mercury might be part of a standard doctor's check-up, especially for children. Will be checking with my daughter's pediatrician - many thanks for blogging on this topic. - Larry

Reply
Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - Scapolie, new member.

Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 1058
Good Answers: 8
#7
In reply to #5

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/16/2008 6:05 AM

I have seen what mercury can do to people who are or where living on the coast of Norway and Japan, especially their children! The Japanese incident is the most notorious of these but, it is not only mercury that is such a great hazzard to the human population!

Here in the UK we have massive amounts of "Oestregen" in the rivers, some of it goes into our drinking water, in the rivers a lot of the male fish have become female because of this and we now think that this is affecting the human population causing male infertiltity!!!

Then there is the run off into our rivers of farm residues like phosphates and nitogen bearing chemicals, there is different food colouration products and other harmful chemicals in our food plus the toxic air we breath, all this seems to have gone unnoticed by our political leaders who think only of personal gain and not about our countries health!!!

And all they can think of doing nowadays is cutting CO2 levels to stop global warming while we the population are being poisond out of exsistence!!!!!

Spencer.

Reply
Guru
Canada - Member - New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Western Canada
Posts: 1863
Good Answers: 39
#8
In reply to #7

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/16/2008 12:22 PM

I must have missed it(explanation). Evidently it is the vapors from mercury that is most harmful. Elemental mercury is so dense it cannot float in the air like water mist (clouds) and the evaporation point is way higher than normal room temperatures.

Would someone please explain in plain language, how elemental mercury in liquid form can be inhaled from the air?

And how come the dentists are not all dead already from handling mercury to make fillings?

__________________
Elnav
Reply Score 1 for Good Answer
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#10
In reply to #8

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 2:36 AM
__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Guru
Canada - Member - New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Western Canada
Posts: 1863
Good Answers: 39
#12
In reply to #10

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 3:27 AM

Usual disclaimers ; http://www.curezone.com/dental/dental_amalgam.asp

REPLY

Oh my G**; I'm gonna die! My dentist never did any of those things.

__________________
Elnav
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#14
In reply to #12

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 6:18 AM

Nah, you'll just go slowly mad. Look on the bright side - so will he/she. If the dentist don't get ya, the wallpaper might.

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Anonymous Poster
#9
In reply to #7

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/16/2008 10:28 PM

Honestly, I'm glad I'm an old codger. I've managed to live with ALL these poisons floating around and in the water supply and poisoned fish, etc. ad nauseum. Someday, perhaps after I become infirm after ingesting all this poison, I will look back and say "well yeh. I guess all those clowns that spend their waking hours worrying about such stuff rather than living their lives were right". Personally, I want to spend my time living life rather than worrying about all these poisons.

Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#11
In reply to #9

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 2:53 AM

When you were a lad, possibly playing with a stick and hope, you weren't' surrounded by vehicle emissions. Your supper wouldn't have been laced with chemical additives, you weren't surrounded by plastics/petro-chem derivitives, and teeth simply fell out. You may have a point though, many people smoke until past 100 and are quite healthy (in comparative terms).

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Guru
Canada - Member - New Member Hobbies - Musician - New Member

Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Western Canada
Posts: 1863
Good Answers: 39
#13
In reply to #11

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 3:43 AM

No you are right! The motor way was at least a hundred yards from where we played. Except when we went looking for "black writing sticks" th e4left over cabon rods th ebattery factory dumped out the back. Their garbage dump was one of our favourite places to hunt for neat stuff. Another popular play area was to go hide and seek in the bunkers left over from WW2 . It must have been as late as 1956 before they demolished them all and we had no interesting play areas left to explore.

I can stil recall one of our favourite summer activities. Someone would get a magnifying lens and we would break off the handle bar covering. When you focused the sun's rays on it the celluloid would erupt in the most marvellous plume of thick white smoke. Left all of us coughing. But then what did we know. Most people considered themselves lucky just to have survived the war. We also collected spent bullet casings and polished them up. Someone had discovered a place where the SS had done a lot of executions and the brass casings could still be found lightly buried in the soft ground. Tha't where I learned to dismantle live bulletsls with a pair of pliers. Oh what fun we had in our youthful ignorance.

Now I'm afraid to get out of bed because of all the risky hazards the experts keep telling me about.

__________________
Elnav
Reply
Guru

Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Etherville
Posts: 12334
Good Answers: 115
#15
In reply to #13

Re: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 3)

12/17/2008 6:23 AM

Stay in bed - the (supposedly) most common form of accident is tripping over. Not tripping over an object, just tripping on ones own feet ! My god, this life stuff is too dangerous !!

__________________
For sale - Signature space. Apply on self addressed postcard..
Reply
Reply to Blog Entry 17 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Comments rated to be "almost" Good Answers:

Check out these comments that don't yet have enough votes to be "official" good answers and, if you agree with them, rate them!
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Anonymous Poster (2); april05 (1); elnav (3); Jaxy (2); Kris (6); Scapolie (1); Steve Melito (1); U V (1)

Previous in Blog: The Middle School Mercury Mystery (Part 2)   Next in Blog: "Magical" Christmas Origins

Advertisement