Mercury seriously mucking with wildlife, study finds

Mercury contamination of wildlife may be more prevalent than previously thought and influencing ecosystems in unexpected ways, suggests a study released yesterday. Researchers in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada found higher-than-expected levels of mercury in the region’s birds and other animals, supporting the hypothesis that mercury from power plants and incinerators may be getting into the forest food chain in much the same way it enters water bodies and aquatic ecosystems. Leaves and the moist forest floor act to transform the mercury that falls from the sky into its most toxic form — methylmercury. Insects then easily accumulate the metal in their bodies, passing it up the food chain and around the ecosystem. “The impacts of mercury go well beyond what anyone would have envisioned yesterday,” said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, who played no role in the study. The research adds to the arsenal of environmental advocates who argue that the Bush administration needs a more aggressive plan for curbing mercury emissions.