Pitkin County health officials looking into mercury exposure | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County health officials looking into mercury exposure

Pitkin County Public Health will begin reaching out to 75 individuals found to have mercury levels in their blood meeting the state’s threshold for further investigation, according to a news release the county issued Tuesday.

The people with mercury levels of higher than 5 micrograms per liter, which is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s minimum threshold for follow-up investigation, were among a combination of 118 part- and full-time Pitkin County residents who were tested for mercury from 2018-22, the release said.

State health officials relayed the information about the test results earlier this month to the county, said Kurt Dahl, county environmental health manager. The county has a list of people it will contact to see if any common denominators — contaminated fish consumption or similar type jewelry being worn, for example — were among those tested with mercury levels of at least 5 mcg per liter.

“Once we’re done, we’ll see if we can find a reason behind it,” Dahl said. “If it’s something in the environment, something behavioral, something cosmetic … we’ll coordinate with the state health department and see if it’s an environmental source or it’s from private property or something else, or from somewhere else.”

According to the CDPHE’s website, “Although human exposure to mercury occurs most frequently through eating contaminated fish, there are other ways to be exposed to mercury. People have been exposed by inhaling mercury vapors from broken fluorescent lamps, gas regulators, and home fever thermometers. Rarely, people are exposed by swallowing mercury.”

Mercury can also be released into the environment from volcanic and geothermal activity, marine environments or forest fires, or man-made sources like coal-fired power plants and other industrial activities, according to the CDPHE.

The state didn’t come to Pitkin County and do any sweeping tests, Dahl said. Instead, laboratories that process blood tests notify the state health department of cases where mercury levels are at least 5 mcg per liter.

Pitkin County Public Health will be contacting affected individuals as “an act of routine surveillance,” according to the release.

“Public Health’s Disease Investigation Team is conducting the investigation to understand whether there are potential sources of exposure and burden levels in the community,” said the release.

The release said there are other states with higher thresholds for investigation; Michigan has a level of 15 mcg per liter, and the threshold in Florida and California is 10 mcg per liter.

“Colorado’s lower threshold level may indicate there is no significance to these results but it’s the job of Public Health to ensure there is no significance,” said the release.

There is no human data linking mercury exposure to cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Symptoms of mercury exposure include chills, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

“Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system of people of all ages,” according to the EPA. “High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of babies developing in the womb and young children may harm their developing nervous systems, affecting their ability to think and learn.”


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