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UNB scientist finds increased levels of mercury in food webs

Author: Communications

Posted on Jun 16, 2014

Category: UNB Saint John , myUNB , UNB Fredericton , UNB Homepage

Rising mercury levels

Each year, human activities release increasing amounts of mercury into the environment. Based on Karen Kidd’s research of Nova Scotia lakes, rising mercury levels are a threat to Canada’s waters and wildlife.

Research at Kejimkujik National Park

Karen Kidd, biology professor at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Saint John, studies mercury levels in lakes at Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia.

Freshwater lakes in Kejimkujik contain some of the highest mercury levels in North America and the lake’s yellow perch fish are highly affected. Kidd’s data will help determine the health impact of mercury on wildlife.

“Some fish contain levels of mercury that are a risk to their health and to their consumers,” says Kidd.

Global concern

Although mercury is a metal found naturally in soils and rocks, human activity, such as gold mining and coal burning for power generation, has increased mercury in the environment. Kidd’s research shows that increasing levels of mercury are entering the food web.

“This is a global concern,” says Kidd. “Mercury is known to affect the health of the fish, wildlife and humans that are exposed to high mercury in their diets.”

Protecting our environment

Funded and supported by NSERC, the Canada Research Chair, Environment Canada and Parks Canada, Kidd’s data is part of a national review on mercury in the Canadian environment.

“It will be used to identify areas of the country where there are risks of mercury poisoning to wildlife and to people that eat fish,” says Karen.

The research will support international efforts to help protect Canada’s wildlife by limiting the release of mercury into the atmosphere.

Karen Kidd is Tier II Canada Research Chair in Chemical Contamination of Food Webs and a science director with the Canadian Rivers Institute at UNB.