Last week on QUEST, we took a look at the history of the San Francisco Bay’s most dangerous toxin: mercury. This week, now that the mercury is here in the bay, how is it affecting us? The obvious place to go was the Berkeley Marina, one of the bay’s most popular fishing spots. On the day I visited, halibut season had just begun and, even on a Monday morning, the pier was lined with anglers. Halibut contains high levels of mercury, just like other big SF Bay fish but – as you hear in the piece – you wouldn’t know it from talking to the fishermen out that day.

Of course mercury is a problem in many big fish we eat, not just the ones in the San Francisco Bay. Dr. Jane Hightower is one of the leading local doctors diagnosing various levels of mercury poisoning in her patients – many of whom, as she says, do their fishing at places like Whole Foods. We only had time to use a short piece of that interview in the actual story, but anyone who eats fish will want to hear more from Dr. Hightower. A longer version of that interview – including Dr. Hightower’s surprising views on kid staples like canned tuna fish – is right here.

You may listen to the “Mercury in the Bay – Part 2” Radio report online, as well as find additional links and resources.

Amy Standen is a Reporter for QUEST and Radio News at KQED-FM.
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  • Harvey Tran

    Coal burning plants were casually mentioned as contributing to mercury levels in the water. Yet studies have shown coal plants contribute the same amount of mercury as all other sources COMBINED.

  • Sumana

    Thanks for your excellent report – can I get transcripts. I am doing research on the scale and cost of cleanup and related effects of water pollution (both drinking water from the ground and bay water/fisheries etc) due to mercury discarded from used/broken CFL bulbs, solar panels and other ‘green’ carbon friendly solutions being promoted today. If you can send any information or are willing to be interviewed or can refer me to suitable experts for my project please advise. Thanks.

  • I hope one of your reporters will do a further study on mercury around retorts – the chimnies in crematoriums. The old ones are the worst. As the percentage of cremations to burials continues to rise rapidly every year, its time someone took some samples of the land around these retorts and down wind. There seems to be no legal concern here. Laws are coming into effect in England in 2013 requiring crematoriums to install scrubbers which will collect the mercury. (From our teeth – 2-4 grams per person) The scrubbers are extremely expensive, and the crem’s have to all contribute to the cost. Jane Hillhouse


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

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