Mercury Poisoning and Youth. What Can Gen Z do to stop it? By: Veronika PodobedFeatured
Mercury poisoning is a very dangerous, yet widespread global issue which affects hundreds of individuals each year. Adults are the main subjects of exposure when it comes to mercury contamination, yet children and youth are not far behind. When thinking of the main sources of mercury exposure, the most common cause is “from consuming too much methylmercury or organic mercury, which is linked to eating seafood,” (Healthline). However, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency there are many more factors such as, “Globally, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) [which] is the largest source of anthropogenic mercury emissions (37.7%), followed by stationary combustion of coal (21%). Other large sources of emissions are non-ferrous metals production (15%) and cement production (11%). (United Nations Environment Programme, Global Mercury Assessment, 2018),” (EPA) as well as “stationary combustion of coal” (UN Environment).
It is evident that there are multiple ways people get exposed to mercury in their daily lives without truly knowing about it. For example, this includes eating a wide range of food like seafood, (more specifically fish), rice and different wildlife. Even though in certain countries there are clear regulations regarding the amount of fish and other food types people can eat (in relation to the mercury exposure in the product), many individuals still do not refer to these guidelines, or simply do not know about them.
Furthermore, on the market there are various skin lightening products, such as creams which contain mercury. Many teenagers can be manipulated and persuaded to use these dangerous products, because of the unhealthy, controversial and harmful ideological message associated with the product (ex. Changing your skin tone will make you happy or more self-confident). Young people are constantly the targets of large consumer manufacturing companies, who will try to sell seemingly “perfect” products which in reality contain hazardous and even possibly deadly contaminants, such as mercury.
Moreover, it has been found that dangerous mercury vapors can be unwillingly inhaled during a wide range of processes where mercury evaporation is a necessary step. In the daily lives of youth and adults this can include amalgam and dental restorations. In these cases, youth are put in a vulnerable situation where they rely on their parents and guardians for support. However, if their caregivers do not have any prior knowledge about the mercury the children are being exposed to during the medical process, they will be unable to help their kids.
However, there is not enough information being given at schools and work to properly teach the youth and their families about the risks they are facing everyday. In these cases, though adults are theoretically being the first to intake the mercury, their children are indirectly being forced to approximately the same amount of exposure. For example, children can be exposed to mercury before birth if their parents eat produce contaminated by this heavily toxic metal. On the other hand, children can unwillingly breath in mercury vapors if their parents or neighbours take part in ASGM gold extraction. The Environmental Defence Fund stated that “Children exposed to excessive mercury before birth may exhibit problems with mental development and coordination, including how they think, learn and problem-solve later in life. Developmental and neurological damage can be irreversible for fetuses and young children…” (EDF). Furthermore, the WebMD wrote that “Young children exposed to certain heavy metals are at higher risk for problems with attention and behavior later in life…Lead and mercury are potent toxins, and the developing brains of young children are vulnerable to their effects. Studies of kids with mercury poisoning show they have trouble with language skills, attention, and coordination, as well as other problems,” (WebMD).
Consequently, it is evident that mercury poisoning has severe and detrimental impacts on youth. Unfortunately, the young victims of mercury poisoning are not being heard on a large enough scale. Children in poor communities are forced to live in silence without proper health care and support from others.
Nevertheless, there is still hope that change and justice can be reached. Due to rapid technological development and easy internet accessibility, “The young people of today are the most powerful generation, ever. They have more power at their fingertips than any emperor in history,” (Bookscrounger).
Therefore, a question arises- what can Generation Z do to stop mercury exposure and help youth who have been negatively impacted by this toxic metal? The answer to this important question is truly multidimensional, but there are certain guidelines that can be followed to make a real difference.
First of all it is important to educate yourself about the dangers of mercury exposure. This can mean learning more about the risks associated with eating certain types of fish from various areas and lakes and educating oneself about the symptoms of mercury poisoning. Here are several very helpful websites to visit:
https://hej-support.org/ – HEJ Support website
https://hej-support.org/women-and-mercury-new-approaches-to-minimizing-mercury-exposure/ – HEJ Support: Women and Mercury: new approaches to minimize mercury exposure
https://www.nexus3foundation.org/reports Nexus Foundation and Balifokus Reports
https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury/en/ – World Health Organization: International Programme on Chemical Safety: Mercury
https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7021/mercury-poisoning – US Departement of Health and Human Services
https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/concordia/services/safety/docs/EHS-DOC-112_MercuryGuidelines.pdf – Concordia University Mercury Safety Guidelines
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-guideline-technical-document-mercury.html – Government of Canada Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document – Mercury
According to the World Health Organization, people can engage in “promoting use of clean energy sources that do not rely on burning of coal; switching to non-mercury thermometers and sphygmomanometers in health care; and implementing safe handling, use and disposal of mercury-containing products and waste,” (WHO). In return, if individuals follow these suggestions, they will limit their own risk of unnecessary mercury exposure. As a result, this will significantly benefit their own health and the environment.
Furthermore, individuals can raise money and education supplies for children and youth who are struggling with mercury poisoning and who do not have enough resources to receive proper health care and attend an education facility. This can be done by setting up fundraisers at school, work, in the community and online. Moreover, with social media, important information, petitions for justice for mercury victims and fundraisers can be easily spread through a diverse range of social media platforms.
Mercury poisoning and exposure to children and youth is a very crucial problem which needs to be heard by everybody. Who can make a real difference? Well, Generation Z is one of the most powerful and influential generations ever to walk on Earth. Therefore, if everybody comes together to make a difference regarding this issue – real change will be on the way in no time!
Cherney, Kristeen. Understanding Mercury Poisoning. Edited by Daniel Murrell, 13 Dec. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/mercury-poisoning.
Environment, UN. Global Mercury Assessment. www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/chemicals-waste/what-we-do/mercury/global-mercury-assessment?_ga=2.236848001.1424420630.1594069428-622754056.1585006693.
Mercury Emissions: The Global Context. 28 Jan. 2020, www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/mercury-emissions-global-context.
“Mercury.” World Health Organization, www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury/en/.
Bookscrounger. “The Most Powerful Generation.” Bookscrounger.com, 13 Apr. 2016, http://bookscrounger.com/most-powerful-generation/.
Goodman, Brenda. “Kids Exposed to Mercury, Lead at Risk for ADHD.” WebMD, 21 Sept. 2012, www.webmd.com/add-adhd/news/20120921/kids-mercury-lead-risk-adhd.
“Mercury in Seafood.” Seafood Selector, http://seafood.edf.org/mercury-seafood.