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High levels of mercury concern community

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- As Wilmington risks not meeting new state sulfur dioxide standards, opponents question the impact of a cement plant planned for Castle Haynes. Now, results from a recent test show that some folks in the Cape Fear have high levels of mercury in their bodies.

Hair samples gathered recently show a high level of mercury, and some folks says if Titan America comes to Wilmington, those numbers are sure to go up.

“We don’t need two ounces more of mercury until we find out what the causes are and start a clean up process,” said Mike Giles of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

Giles got his hair tested last month by The Sierra Club in Wrightsville Beach. He says he knew there was an issue, but when he got his results back, he was shocked. His sample ranked second out of 126.

“I tested above the EPA’s safe standard for mercury, so I have a real concern about the mercury in our environment because I have a high level already,” Giles said.

The EPA safe standard for mercury is 1.2 parts per million. Of the 126 people tested, 15 were above this standard. The person who tested the highest had double the amount set by the EPA health guideline. Officials say those who should be the most concerned with levels are pregnant women.

“The general public should be informed,” said the New Hanover County Health Department spokesman Joshua Swift. “There are more risks involved with pregnant women for the outcomes of child birth.”

Swift says mercury is a naturally occurring element, so having traces of it in your system is not uncommon.

“Most people are exposed to mercury through eating fish and shell fish,” said Swift. “But coal burning power plants are also a factor. They’re a human caused source of mercury and over 50% of the domestic human cause of mercury emissions is coal burning plants.”

Because of this, many people, including Giles, think more research should be done on all of the effects before new plants, like the proposed cement plant in Castle Hayne, make their way to our area.

“Before we start permitting new sources of pollution into our atmosphere and our water and our environment, lets find out what the effects of that pollution could be,” said Giles.

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