February 21

Scientist: State knew for years about mercury-contaminated lobster at mouth of Maine river

He says a panel’s reports in 2008 and 2009 included mercury data from the Penobscot River. But a state scientist says the findings were based on a small sample and contradicted other test results.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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TESTS FIND ELEVATED MERCURY LEVELS

WHAT’S SAFE TO CONSUME: The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria recommend no more than 200 to 300 nanograms of mercury per gram of meat per week as safe for human consumption. 

AT GREATER RISK: The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises no more than 200 nanograms of mercury per gram of meat for the most sensitive populations, such as pregnant or nursing women or children younger than 8. 

WHAT WAS FOUND: Tests conducted on lobster tails harvested off the coast of the Hancock County town of South Verona in 2008 found levels of mercury exceeding 450 nanograms per gram. Tests in the same area in 2009 found levels exceeding 400 nanograms. Subsequent tests in 2010 found levels just below 400 nanograms per gram.

Mercury is toxic to humans and, in high doses, can attack neurological systems such as the brain, peripheral nerves, the pancreas, the immune system and kidneys. Unborn children are especially sensitive to mercury’s toxic effects, and excessive exposure can lead to mental disabilities, cerebral palsy and nervous system damage.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that pregnant and nursing women and children younger than 8 eat no more than 8 ounces of fish per week, based on guidelines that estimate a safe level for consumption at 200 nanograms of mercury per gram of meat. Two average-size lobsters yield about 8 ounces of meat.

The executive director of the Maine People’s Alliance, the citizens’ group that brought the federal lawsuit against Mallinckrodt, said the state acted quickly to close the area with contaminated lobster.

“We have a lot of problems with the state and we’re happy to point them out. But in this instance, we feel like they did get this information and tried to get the implication of it and acted in a pretty timely manner about the closure of the part of the Penobscot River to lobster fishing,” said Jesse Graham. “I think we should continue to put the blame squarely on the corporation.”

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan

 

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