Chapter

Environmental Justice: The Mercury Connection

Jerome Nriagu, Niladri Basu and Simone Charles

in Mercury in the Environment

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780520271630
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520951396 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520271630.003.0015
Environmental Justice: The Mercury Connection

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For many communities, exposure to mercury through fish consumption is an exemplary case of environmental injustice. Groups that rely on fishing for food, cultural identity, spiritual wellbeing, or economic prosperity are more vulnerable to mercury pollution. The vulnerability is heightened because sources and hotspots of mercury are found disproportionately in areas near communities of color, low-income and immigrant communities, and indigenous peoples. This chapter reviews cases where mercury has impacted the health, culture, and identity of local communities. Such communities are victims of environmental injustice because they have derived little or no benefit from the products and services of mercury-releasing industries, but they now bear the burden of the wastes left behind. Existing strategies for reducing mercury exposure are not always effective in communities at risk. Fish advisories that warn of health risks from eating contaminated fish themselves perpetuate environmental injustice. The shift in policy from risk reduction to risk avoidance places these communities in a lose-lose situation: either eat fish and suffer the health effects from contaminants or do not eat fish and suffer the health and cultural effects of losing a critical diet food. By allowing significant mercury contamination to remain in place while advising the population at risk to change their lifestyle, regulators are indirectly perpetuating discrimination against communities that attach different normative values to fish.

Keywords: mercury sources; disproportionate exposure; clor-alkali plants; urban anglers; environmental justice defined; populations at risk; maternal blood mercury; siting of mercury sources; Brownfield development; hot spots of mercury; Grassy Narrows; Ontario; James Bay Cree of Quebec; hydroelectric dam; Pomo tribe of California; Mohawks of Akwesasne; Arctic Region; mercury contamination; fish consumption advisories; balancing risks of mercury exposure

Chapter.  13291 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Animal Pathology and Diseases

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