Bad News Report: The Grand Canyon Has a Mercury Problem

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The Grand Canyon may be in danger.

Brace yourselves, people. It appears that one of America’s greatest national parks may very well be brimming with mercury and selenium: Researchers have found toxic chemicals in the Grand Canyon. This unsettling discovery was originally revealed in the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study showed that poisonous mercury and selenium has been entering the Canyon from its “Colorado River food webs.” Treehugger reports that high levels of mercury and selenium have been linked to lower growth, reproductive, and survival success rates in wildlife and fish, “The levels exceed dietary fish and wildlife toxicity thresholds throughout the Colorado River Basin, and selenium concentrations are particularly high.”

This news is especially bad because the “risk thresholds signify the concentrations of toxins in food that could be harmful if eaten by fish, wildlife and humans.” This research adds to the accumulating data that show remote and beautiful ecosystems can still be negatively affected by outside contaminants from miles away.

So, where is all this nasty stuff coming from? It’s suspected that the atmospheric mercury in the park is coming from a “large regional atmospheric pool.” Much of it comes from outside of the country, but some of it is coming from a Page, Ariz. coal-burning power plant. And it appears that most of the selenium is coming from irrigation run-off.

While this is pretty terrible news, there is a bit of “OK” news in the story. “While they found that mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows and invertebrates exceeded dietary fish and wildlife toxicity thresholds, fortunately mercury levels in rainbow trout were not as alarming.” Treehugger reports.

“Although the number of samples was relatively low, rainbow trout is the most common species harvested by anglers in the study area and their levels were below the EPA threshold that would trigger advisories for human consumption.”

So, all is not lost quite yet. But if there’s anything we know about impending environmental disasters, it’s that where there’s “smoke,” there’s certainly a “fire.”

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