(NaturalNews) The fog along the coast of California is depositing a neurotoxin called monomethyl mercury in San Franciso — at a concentration about 20 times that of rain — thought to come from burning coal and other fossil fuels, according to SFGate.com.
“Understanding the mechanism — a process that reaches into the ocean, pulls out a neurotoxin, then shuttles it ashore in fog — is very important,” said Kenneth Coale of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. “This is a completely new pathway.”
“We’re seeing that there’s mercury along the coast at every level in the plants, in the herbivores, in the carnivores,” Peter Weiss-Penzias, an atmospheric chemist at UC Santa Cruz, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The Sentinel reports that, “Mercury poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system and impair reproductive functions.”
According to Popular Science, Coale and Weiss-Penzias found that levels of mercury “were 19 times higher in fog than in rain, even in the same area.”
“It is a public health concern because it tends to build up in the food chain, as animals with low levels of mercury in their bodies are eaten by carnivores,” Popular Science reports. “The carnivores, which may eat many mercury-contaminated prey, end up with a lot of mercury in their bodies.”
Carnivores that people eat include salmon and sharks but can also include pets such as cats and dogs.
A study on wolf spiders found mercury levels exceeded FDA limits on mercury consumption. “The spiders probably aren’t feeling toxic effects, but the birds that eat the spiders could since the concentration of mercury acuminates,” Weiss-Penzias said.
“Picture fog sweeping over the ocean’s surface at night, absorbing all these neurotoxins,” Coale explained in the Sentinel. “Then the mop is rung out over the redwood forests and maritime chaparral landscapes and the organisms who live there.”
The scientists found mercury in the whiskers and fur of mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains, blanketed by redwoods and chaparral, which receive 90% of their water from fog.
“While it might not be a human health issue at this point, it looks like it is an ecosystem health issue in the long run,” Coale said. “And it’s coming from human sources — that is coal-fired plants.”
As this mechanism continues, the scientists told SFGate.com, regulators may want to consider action to restrict human sources of mercury, although much of the pollution comes from industries across the Pacific, such as Chinese factories. “I am hopeful that when all the exposure routes are added up, we will see that we are receiving quite a burden,” Coale said, “and that perhaps we should be considering limiting (mercury) emissions, particularly from coal-fired power plants — not just from a climate change perspective, but from an ecosystem health perspective as well.”
Popular Science that Coales and Weiss-Penzias plan to continue “looking into how mercury from fog affects the food web on land, and hope to eventually be able to use drones to monitor the fog as it comes in.”