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Grand Canyon Mercury Pollution: A Long-Term Problem with No Easy Answers

A recent U.S. Geological Survey report acts as a reminder that even remote ecosystems and waterways can be contaminated with pollutants. After examining the Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River, the survey team reported levels of mercury and selenium that “regularly exceed risk thresholds for fish and wildlife.”

In many of the fish sampled, mercury and selenium levels were high enough to pose a threat to human health if consumed. Exposure to both substances is linked to lower fertility rates, lower growth rates, and overall lower survival in fish and wildlife.


Pollutant Sources

Surveyors believe selenium levels in the region originate in the irrigation of selenium-rich soil further up the waterway in the upper Colorado River basin. Tracking the source of mercury contamination is more difficult. Upstream coal-burning power plants and the Navajo Generating Station release mercury that becomes airborne, remaining in the atmosphere for six months after emission. As a result, mercury can travel hundreds of thousands of miles from its origination point. The mercury in the Colorado River could originate as far away as Asia, or it may be coming from local power plants.

Human Safety and Well Water

At present, there are no human consumption advisories for fish in the Grand Canyon segment of the river as researchers need to conduct further studies. Nor is it clear if mercury and selenium from the river affect local groundwater and private wells.

The effects of mercury on our nation’s waterways will be long-lasting, with no clear solution in sight. It’s also only one of a number of substances capable of contaminating both public water and private wells. Contact one of Pelican Water’s water quality specialists at 877-842-1635 to discuss how we can help your household receive safer, cleaner water.

Disclaimer: The information on this website has not been reviewed by the FDA. Products offered for sale herein are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition. No medical claims are being made or implied. Contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.

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