Mercury is Polluting the Grand Canyon: Metals Found in Fish and Plants

First Posted: Aug 26, 2015 07:54 AM EDT

The Grand Canyon may actually be contaminated with mercury. Researchers have found fish in the Glen Canyon Dam actually have higher levels of mercury.

"Managing exposure risks in the Grand Canyon will be a challenge, because sources and transport mechanisms of mercury and selenium extend far beyond Grand Canyon boundaries," said David Walters, USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study, in an interview with Discovery News.

About three years ago, researchers found high mercury levels in fish in Lake Powell. This spurred state regulators to issue a fish consumption advisory of striped bass. Now, it seems as I these levels are limited to Lake Powell. Instead, the researchers are finding high levels of mercury in everything from algae to bugs to fish downstream.

Mercury is a highly potent neurotoxin that can affect the central nervous system in both people and wildlife. In this latest study, researchers found that average mercury concentrations in many of the fish studied would make them unsafe for humans to eat. With that said, there aren't high enough levels of mercury in the fish downstream to launch a consumption advisory for the fish.

"Every fish we looked at from Glen Canyon was way below any risk threshold and the fish we looked at downstream were way below that threshold as well, so it doesn't appear to be any risk to humans through consumption of trout," said Ted Kennedy, co-author of the new study, in an interview with AZ Daily Sun.

The study emphasizes the fact that more research needs to be done, especially related to potential risks to humans who consume fish from the Grand Canyon or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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