The researchers think that the lower mercury levels near power plants are likely linked to selenium levels. Fish tissue samples taken within 10 km of a coal-fired power plant showed selenium levels three times higher than samples taken from fish located further away. This shows an inverse relationship to the mercury levels the higher the selenium level, the lower the mercury level.
Selenium, which is also emitted by coal-fired plants, is known to have an antagonistic relationship to mercury, though the specific mechanisms at play are not clearly defined. In other words, the selenium prevents fish from accumulating high levels of mercury, and we're still working on the specifics of how that happens.
However, while lower mercury levels are a good thing, higher levels of selenium pose their own risks. "Selenium is an important dietary element," says Dr. Derek Aday, associate professor of biology at NC State and a co-author of the paper. "But at high levels, it can have serious consequences including lethal effects and an array of health problems for fish and wildlife."
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University