Methylmercury is the form of mercury that is the most toxic to organisms. It originates as mercury, which is found naturally in many rocks and also originates from forest fires and volcanoes. The element is present naturally in trace amounts in the air, water, and soil. More notably, mercury is present in high amounts in coal, which, once burned, is deposited into waterways easily. This process causes the majority of anthropogenic mercury emissions worldwide.
Once present in waterways, mercury comes into contact with organic compounds, and is methylated to form methylmercury. Methylmercury is a liquid and can enter the ecosystem at the lowest trophic levels. From here, the methylmercury both bioaccumulates in each organism and biomagnifies to the top of the food chain. This means that the top predators in aquatic ecosystems are subjected to much higher mercury levels than are present ambiently in the water of the environment.
Methylmercury’s presence in these organisms can cause a variety of irreparable neurological, reproductive, and genetic issues. The ingestion of contaminated fish is the most common method of mercury exposure in humans, and this can cause many of the same issues. The most serious issues linked with methylmercury ingestion in humans are birth defects.
How You Can help
Are you a member of a group or organization in your community that would be interested in adopting this waterway? Contact the Cumberland River Compact if you’re interested in learning more about stream adoption.
Mercury can be found in a variety of products, including flourescent light bulbs and lamps, batteries, thermostats and thermometers, skin lightening creams, appliances, car parts, and more.
1) Products That Contain Mercury. - King County, Washington
2) How Do I Recycle? Common Recyclables - EPA
3) Search for Recycling Solution - Earth911
Airborne mercury, generated by coal plants in the process of producing electricity, can travel hundreds of miles from coal plants before coming to ground. Conserving electricty and investing in renewables can reduce the amount of mercury that ends up in our water.
1) Reducing Electricity Use and Costs - US Department of Energy
2) Solar, Wind, Hydropower: Home Renewable Energy Installations - US Department of Energy
3) Planning for Home Renewable Energy Systems - US Department of Energy
4) Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Energy Use - EPA
Impervious or impermeable surfaces, like pavement, contribute significantly to polluted stormwater runoff and alter stream flow habitat. If you've got excess pavement you'd like removed, consider a de-paving project with the Compact. Elsewhere, ensure that your downspouts drain to vegetation, gravel, or rainbarrels, rather than impervious surfaces. If you constructing or repairing your driveway, pervious pavement allows stormwater to infiltrate and filter through the ground. If you can’t do the whole drive, consider making only the portion closest to the street pervious.
1) De-paving Work - Cumberland River Compact (Call 615-837-1151)
2) Rain Barrel Sales - Cumberland River Compact
3) Rain Barrels Make Good Sense - UT Extension
If you live or work next to a waterway, leave a 35′ to 100′ no mow zone on its banks. Allow natural and native plant growth in this buffer area or plant native trees, bushes, and groundcover. This vegetation can filter pollutants before they reach your waterway and provide other water quality benefits that far exceed those of a mowed lawn. Native plants and grasses require less watering and fertilizer and also provide important habitat for native species of wildlife.
1) Free trees for Tennesseans during TEC's annual statewide 100K Tree Day - TN Environmental Council
2) Tennessee Aquatic Stream Clean Up and Riparian Tree Grant (Scroll to bottom of linked page for more info) - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
3) General Guidelines for Volunteer Based Riparian Buffer Plantings - TN Environmental Council
4) Improving Stream Channels With Live Staking - UT Extension
5) Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook - TN Dept. of Agriculture
6) Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
7) Native Plants for TN - UT Extension
8) Forest Stewardship Program and Landowner Services - KY Division of Forestry
9) Plant Availability Guide - KY Department of Agriculture
10) State Nurseries and Tree Seedlings - KY Division of Forestry
Rain gardens can filter and infiltrate stormwater that flows across your yard.
1) Rain Gardens - A Resource Guide - Cumberland River Compact and Metro Nashville
2) TN Native Rain Garden Plants - UT Extension
3) Rain Gardens for Tennessee - UT Extension
4) Rain Gardens Educator's Toolkit, Rain Gardens for Tennessee Site Summary, and Rain Garden Facts and Tips - UT Extension
5) Rain Garden How-to Brochure - Harpeth River Watershed Association
6) Rain Garden Guide for Middle Tennesseans by Patty Ghertner
7) Start-to-Finish Rain Garden Workbook - Harpeth River Watershed Association
8) Rain Garden Workshop Guide - TN Environmental Council
9) Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
10) Native Plants for TN - UT Extension
11) Plant Availability Guide - KY Department of Agriculture
Participate in community planning efforts and advocate for relevant measures that improve or protect water quality. Write to your elected official and let them know this is concern or invite them to speak about the impairment with your home-owners association. When elections come up, vote for candidates who will address the problem and hold them accountable to their promises. Support local watershed / environmental associations.
1) Advocacy Toolkit - TN Environmental Council
2) Find Your Legislators - Federal Legislators; State Legislators (KY/TN); Local Legislators (KY/TN) 3) A number of organizations work to address impacts to communities from mining in our basin. They include Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices, KY Waterways Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment.
Do your neighbors, family, or roommates know about the problem? Now that you know how to be an effective steward, enlist the help of others in your neighborhood. Share iCreek or resources within it with your neighbors and encourage them to join the effort to protect your creek.