An analysis of several studies conducted among Hispanics in the United States reveal that they are at a higher risk of exposure to toxic mercury pollution because of a combination of cultural, economic and linguistic factors.
The analysis is based largely on previously unreleased data from the polling firm Bendixen & Amandi's 2008 National Survey of Latinos on the Environment.
According to a Sierra Club survey, 31 percent of Latinos fish regularly, and 76 percent of those eat and share what they catch with their families. These families include young children and women of childbearing age -- the two population sectors most vulnerable to mercury poisoning.
"Hispanics in the United States should be especially concerned about the fish that they catch, since many local waterways have high levels of mercury pollution," said Fernand Amandi, managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi.
High mercury levels in fish are attributed to the emissions of coal-fired power plants, which are conveyed into waterways by rain and ingested by fish – and ultimately by the humans who consume them.
"Dirty coal-fired power plants threaten everyone's health, and this new analysis shows that Hispanics in the United States are at an even higher risk," said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "The Environmental Protection Agency can help clean up everyone's air and water and protect our children's health by adopting protections against mercury and other air pollution."
Exposure to mercury in utero can contribute to birth defects including neurological and developmental disorders, learning disabilities, delayed onset of walking and talking, and cerebral palsy. At least 1 in 12, and as many as 1 in 6 American women have enough mercury in their bodies to put a baby at risk. That means that over 300,000 babies are born each year at risk of mercury poisoning.
A study conducted by the University of California-Davis found that Hispanic anglers fish close to their urban communities because of a lack of transportation options. The fish caught in urban areas tend to contain the highest concentrations of mercury contamination. UC-Davis researchers also found that Hispanic fishermen ingest an average of 13.9 micrograms of mercury per day via the fish they catch – almost twice the safe limit established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Sierra Club is calling on the EPA to adopt strong national air toxins safeguards, predicting that such federal protections would save 17,000 lives and prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma annually.