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"Mad Hatters" Source of Mercury Mystery

  [ 23 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
www.ProHealth.com • June 21, 2002


Mad Hatters, Seafood Jubilees, & Pfiesteria Files

Sea Grant News & Notes

Ever wonder where the term "mad as a hatter" came from? Mercury, once used extensively in the hat making process, caused a brain illness in many hatters. And though the hatmaking industry is gone from one town, mercury may still exist in the soil and river sediments that surround its old factories.  Danbury, Connecticut was known as the hat making capital of the world in the 19th century. During the industry boom of the 1880s, over five million hats a year were produced in 56 different factories. The production process involved using a mercury compound, mercury nitrate, to remove fur from its pelts and turn it into felt more easily. Abraham Lincoln's famous beaver stovepipe hats were made in this fashion.

Hat makers, exposed to large amounts of vaporized mercury, began to experience its effects on their own nervous systems. Doctors even recorded seeing "holes the size of quarters" inside some hatters' brains. The state of Connecticut outlawed the use of mercury in hat making in the early 1940s. But there are signs that mercury remains in soil and river sediment not far from where factories once stood.

Connecticut Sea Grant researcher Johan Varekamp and his team, who had been studying the distribution of mercury contamination throughout Long Island Sound, discovered high levels of mercury in a marsh within the mouth of the Housatonic River. Varekamp worked his way up the river in order to find the mercury's source. He found extremely high levels in the Still River, a tributary of the Housatonic that flows through Danbury. He and his team have tested fields, rivers and soils inside the town, and have found mercury levels many times higher than natural levels. Now, the team is testing further sights to find out how far the contamination has reached. The Still and Housatonic Rivers are both prone to flooding, and Varekamp worries that a future hurricane or storm may flush more mercury into Long Island Sound, threatening its fisheries, and once again imperiling human health through seafood contamination.

CONTACT: Johan Varekamp, Professor in Geology, Chair, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, (O) 860-685-2248, Email: jvarekamp@wesleyan.edu

Seafood "jubilee" means easy fishing in Mobile bay
The term "jubilee" means celebration, and for seafood lovers along the Gulf Coast there is indeed cause for celebration. Every summer, residents of Mobile Bay, Alabama are the beneficiaries of a seafood "jubilee." Certain conditions bring crabs, flounder and other bottom-dwelling creatures to the water's surface in a phenomenon called a "jubilee." The result is an abundance of seafood that is easy to catch and enjoy.

"Jubilees" may occur in other areas, but have been recorded almost yearly since the 1860s in Mobile Bay. They usually take place on an early summer morning after a cloudy day that includes a slight east wind, a calm bay surface and a rising tide. Additionally, conditions must include low levels of oxygen in the water, warm temperatures and stratification, in which freshwater floats on top of denser saltwater. When this occurs, the gentle east wind pushes the low-oxygen water shoreward, and sea creatures must stay ahead of it or swim over the top in order to breathe.

As a result, bottom-dwellers are pushed to the shore as the low-oxygen water moves toward them. Flounder, stingrays, eels, blue crab, shrimp and smaller fish are trapped at the shoreline. The lack of oxygen causes them to behave strangely as they move slowly and struggle for air, and it gives residents a chance to capture some of the victims. As many as several thousand pounds of fish and shellfish may be harvested at one time. By sunrise, the "jubilee" conditions subside and the affected fish swim back to the bottom of the bay.
CONTACT: Rick Wallace, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Marine Extension Specialist, (O) 251-438-5690, Email: rwallace@acesag.auburn.edu

Ease cross-border travel with tips from New York Sea Grant
Planning a trip between New York and Canada this year? Over 20 million vehicles and boats will cross the border, and many of them will travel on New York's scenic Seaway Trail. In light of increased security at international borders following last September's terrorist attacks, New York Sea Grant and Seaway Trail teamed up to produce a free 2002 Cross Border Travel Tips brochure. The brochure will encourage recreational boaters, RV owners, camping enthusiasts and traveling motorists to visit the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River shorelines and will ease their trip across borders.

The Seaway Trail, one of "America's Byways," runs 504 miles along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Lake Erie. For smooth travel along the Seaway Trail and other area routes, the Travel Tips brochure offers the following advice:

Carry two forms of proper identification. This includes a passport, birth certificate, proof of citizenship, proof of naturalization, driver's license, or letter of permission if children are not traveling with a parent.
Follow the U.S. Custom's "Know Before You Go" brochure, available at www.customs.gov/travel/travel.htm

Be flexible. Regulations governing cross-border travel are subject to change without notice.

For a New York State Marina's Guide, visit New York Sea Grant's website at www.nyseagrant.org

Call for a free Journey travel magazine from Seaway Trail, Inc. at 1-800-SEAWAY-T.

The brochure also offers information on frequent boater permits, day traveling on U.S. or Canadian waters, and traveling by RV. It is available on-line only, due to possible revisions, at www.seawaytrail.com
CONTACT: Dave White, New York Sea Grant, (O) 315-312-3042, Email: dgw9@cornell.edu

SEA GRANT AWARD SPOTLIGHT: Emmy, OWAA eco for "Pfiesteria Files" documentary
"The Pfiesteria Files," a one-hour documentary on toxic bloom episodes in the Chesapeake Bay won two major film prizes this week. An Emmy for Best Documentary was awarded by the Washington regional chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and a first place ECO Award will be announced today (6/24) by the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Michael Fincham of Maryland Sea Grant is the video's writer, producer, and director. Copies can be ordered thru Maryland Sea Grant at: www.mdsg.umd.edu/pfiesteria or by calling Fincham at 301-405-6382.

Oregon Sea Grant's Joe Cone also won a first place ECO award from the OWAA in the education category for his production, "You Ought to Tell Somebody" which looks at the problem of non-native aquatic invasive species and provides an overview of the problem, identification and natural history information about a significant Northwest threat, the Chinese mitten crab. Copies can be obtained by contacting Cindy Newberry at Oregon Sea Grant by e-mail at Sea.Grant.Communications@orst.edu or by phone at 541-737-2716.

SEA GRANT CALENDAR SPOTLIGHT: Fourth International Conference on Recirculating Aquaculture, July 18-21, 2002, Roanoke, Virginia
Join those in industry, government and academia in learning from leading experts in recirculating aquaculture. The conference will discuss the latest trends, technologies and breakthroughs in the industry. Sponsored by Virginia Sea Grant, the Aquaculture Engineering Society, the Freshwater Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Event website: www.conted.vt.edu/recirc/aqua.htm

SEA GRANT WEBSITE SPOTLIGHT: Minnesota Shoreland Management Resource Guide  www.shorelandmanagement.org

This website, produced by Minnesota Sea Grant and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center, provides easy access to information about sustainable shoreland practices to improve management of Minnesota's lakes and rivers. It offers effective, low cost means to reach the people who make the everyday decisions that impact our lakes and rivers, including property owners, resource managers, educators, volunteers and other shoreland stewards. The Web site contains scientific and technical background, camera-ready quick and easy answers (FAQs), highlights of citizen action, and contact information for Minnesota counties. Information is also useful beyond state borders.

Sea Grant is a nationwide network of 30 university-based programs that works with coastal communities. Sea Grant research and outreach programs promote better understanding, conservation, and use of America's coastal resources. For more information about Sea Grant visit the Sea Grant Media Center Website at: www.seagrantnews.org, which includes on-line keyword searchable database of academic experts in over 30 topical areas.



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