Toxicologist Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, a regular guest who is helping us understand the toxicity of common chemicals we may be frequently exposed to. Dr. Gilbert is Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and author of A Small Dose of Toxicology- The Health Effects of Common Chemicals.He received his Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1986 from the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, is a Diplomat of American Board of Toxicology, and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. His research has focused on neurobehavioral effects of low-level exposure to lead and mercury on the developing nervous system. Dr. Gilbert has an extensive website about toxicology called Toxipedia, which includes a suite of sites that put scientific information in the context of history, society, and culture. www.toxipedia.org
LISTEN TO OTHER SHOWS WITH STEVEN G. GILBERT, PhD, DABT
- Toxics in the Air We Breathe—Indoors and Outdoors—and How it Affects Our Health
- Toxic Solvents and Vapors
- How Pesticides Can Harm Your Health
- Why Do People Doubt the Science Behind Toxics?
- There is No Safe Level for Lead Exposure
- Fewer Chemicals Make Healthier Babies
- Why We Shouldn’t Have Nuclear Power Plants
- Persistant Bioaccumulative Toxicants
- How Endocrine Disruptors Disrupt Our Endocrine Systems
- The Dangers of Exposure to Radiation and How to Protect Yourself
- Toxics Throughout History—Exposure to Toxic Substances is Not New
- The Ethics of Toxics
- How to Determine Your Risk of Harm From an Exposure to a Toxic Chemical
- The Basic Principles of Toxicology
- Meet a Toxicologist
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
How Mercury Affects Your Health
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT
Date of Broadcast: September 03, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio, where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic-free.
My guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT and he’s a regular guest on the show. I have him on every month because he tells us about different toxic substances and how they are toxic, how we are exposed to them, what the dangers are because we need to know living in a toxic world. We need to know where these toxic chemicals are because the whole point is to be able to recognize them and not have them be in your life so that your body can be healthier. On this show, we talk about detox getting the chemicals out of your body. But it’s better to not put them in, in the first place.
And today, we’re going to talk about mercury and that’s a very common toxic metal. Most people know that there is mercury in your dental fillings, but where else is there mercury? So we are going to find out those things. We’re going to find out how it affects your body.
HI, Dr. Gilbert.
STEVEN GILBERT: Hi, Debra. It is good to speak to you again.
DEBRA: Thank you. How are you doing today?
STEVEN GILBERT: Oh, very good. I’m having a fine day here in Seattle.
DEBRA: Good. Is the sun shiny or is it raining in Seattle?
STEVEN GILBERT: Well, it’s mostly gray. There’s a little bit of sun peeking out, but it’s been gray and really rainy last night.
So it’s real back to the rains in Seattle.
DEBRA: Yeah. We had a really big storm here too yesterday. So let’s talk about mercury. I see that you have a lot of information about it in your book, A Small Dose of Toxicology. And let me just remind readers that you can go to Dr. Gilbert’s website, which is Toxipedia.org and you can get a copy of his book, A Small Dose of Toxicology for free.
It is an excellent book for everybody to read. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read and the information is organized really well and it is just a good book to start with to learn the basics about toxicology.
So tell us about mercury.
STEVEN GILBERT:The first thing I want to say is that you have or your listeners have mercury thermometers, they should immediately take them to the Hazardous Waste people and get rid of mercury thermometers. That’s the most common source of inorganic mercury in the home, mercury thermometers.
They really are hazardous when you break one. That’s one of the problems with inorganic mercury, the silver stuff. Many of us have probably played a little bit with it one time or another growing up, people in the older generations.
But it is hazardous because it evaporates in the air at room temperature and you inhale that mercury. You really don’t want to do that, so I urge your listeners to take their mercury based thermometers, any mercury items, so that can be toys with mercury in them, to Hazardous Waste and dispose of it properly.
DEBRA: So what about…
STEVEN GILBERT: So in general, quick rundown on mercury, it’s a really interesting complex metal. It’s a liquid in room temperature, so it’s also very dense. It’s about 13 times the weight of water.
So you can actually sit on mercury. If you look at the slides, I have a slide set that’s associated with a chapter of my book, you will see this slide of a gentleman sitting on a big bag of mercury. I can’t imagine what he’s inhaling, but it’s pretty remarkable stuff. He actually floored on mercury.
So mercury metal is used for many things. As you mentioned, it’s in our teeth. It’s also a favorite among alchemists because mercury adheres to gold or gold to mercury. So you get a little silver in a pan that you’ve mixed gold with, you can heat that pan and evaporate mercury. I wouldn’t do this at home, it’s really hazardous, but gold appears. So it could literally appear to be turning a base metal, so there’s mercury in the gold. But in reality, you are doing that, but that was something the alchemists do.
So mercury is used in gold-mining. It still is widely used in that [inaudible 00:04:08]. So they would wash the mine tailings over mercury, and then evaporates mercury to get the gold out of that. It’s a very hazardous business. It’s not good for the environment and it’s not good for the miners.
And the problem with mercury in general is once it gets in the atmosphere, it gets into the land and into the water. Bacteria turn into methylmercury to try to detoxify that mercury because methylmercury bio-accumulates and bio-magnifies and moves up the food chain. And we consume the mercury in many of the fishes we consume, particularly the fishes on the higher food chain. Sword fish for example has high mercury content. So that’s organic mercury. Inorganic mercury absorbs the majority of mercury absorbed in the gut. So it’s really absorbed in the gut and the brain.
If you eat a lot of tuna fishes for example, there are well-documented cases of adults as well as children, which we’re really concerned about, you absorb that mercury and it affects your nervous system. So that’s a very fast rundown on mercury and a lot more to talk about.
DEBRA: Okay, let me ask you some questions. First, could you explain again about the difference between inorganic mercury and organic mercury and tell us which one is the one that appears in nature? And then how does that one turn into the other one?
STEVEN GILBERT: So both mercury are naturally occurring. For example, inorganic mercury is the silver mercury. It’s the metal. It is concentrated. It is really fun stuff to play with.
There’s a movie about it, one of the Terminator movies—the mercury man, I guess you’d call him. He could change form and shape. So it’s been widely used. So mercury occurs when a volcano goes off and it could [inaudible 00:05:50] with it.
The mercury is produced from that because it’s a naturally occurring element. One of the biggest releases of the mercury occurs from some of the largest volcano eruptions that occur.
But also the majority of the mercury that’s put on the environment is done by human use because mercury is very good metal. It’s used for conducting electricity, thermometers, obviously, these blood pressure cuffs. You remember to get your blood pressure taken when you go to the doctor, you have a big slug of mercury. Those are then removed and recycled. But it is also widely used in different forms of treatments that are not good for you either. It’s used in, like I mentioned, gold mining.
So it is widely used. The problem is that the inorganic mercury, quicksilver it’s called, one of the names for it, gets into the environment. It is toxic.
Oh, just one of the use for them, inorganic mercury, was in [inaudible 00:06:47]. The Mad Hatter, you might remember in Alice in Wonderland.
DEBRA: Wow. Yeah.
STEVEN GILBERT: The Mad Hatter was actually poisoned by inhaling mercury. So if you inhale that mercury vapor and it goes to the brain, it’s not good for you.
So when it gets out of the environment though, bacteria, because it is toxic, tries to detoxify that mercury and add a methyl group, the CH3 group to the mercury. So we have organic mercury.
So, organic mercury moves by the bacteria, up to the snails, up the small organisms into the fish. So it moves up the food chain or it’s concentrated in the muscle of the fish and we consume the muscle. You can cook the fish and get rid of it. We consume that muscle like I mentioned in certain fishes like swordfish, shark. Some tuna fish, teal are hazardous because it’s a long lived fish and they concentrate the mercury in their muscle and we consume that muscle. We absorb about, like I said, 90% of the methylmercury, organic mercury in fish. And that moves to the brain.
So there are two forms of mercury, the silver mercury, which is many of us can see and the inorganic mercury, which we can’t see, but it’s most likely in the fish that we consume and that’s where the majority of exposure to mercury is from, fish consumption.
And mercury is, like I mentioned, in volcanoes. It’s also in coal and this is very important because when we burn coal, we release mercury in the atmosphere. We know how to control some of that, but many of the old coal fired utility plants do not have good pollution control devices on them, so they release mercury in the atmosphere. There are some good maps from the US Geological Survey showing east United States has more problems with mercury because of the prevailing winds blowing through the east.
DEBRA: So you mentioned…
STEVEN GILBERT: Anther very important source of mercury is a lot of coal burning in China. You probably heard about that in China.
STEVEN GILBERT: They are burning a lot of coal for electric power generation. They don’t have pollution control devices on there and the mercury ends up contaminating the oceans and blows towards the west coast of the United States.
So mercury is widely distributed. Mercury comes out of coal-fired plants and then it turns into organic mercury and it’s taken up by fish and other organisms. So that’s a little bit of history on mercury.
DEBRA: Yeah. I want to ask you quickly because we need to go to break in about 30 seconds. But you mentioned taking thermometers to the Hazardous Waste because if they break then you are breathing the mercury. I’m going to let you answer this after the break. I’ll ask the question. What happens when you break a compact fluorescence light bulb and there’s mercury inside those? We’ll get Dr. Gilbert to answer right after this.
You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert. His website is Toxipedia.org and we’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist and author of the wonderful book, A Small Dose of Toxicology, which you can get for free on his website at Toxipedia.org.
Now right before the break, I asked Dr. Gilbert what about if you dropped a compact fluorescent light bulb? People would ask me that question. It has been so heavily promoted that we all need to be using toxic fluorescent light bulbs, but people drop them.
I was even present once when somebody dropped one. And I said, “Oh, you need to clean this up properly.” Ad she said, “Oh no, I’ll just put it in the garbage.” And she picked it up with a paper towel and put it in the garbage. So what about that exposure to mercury?
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, that’s been a controversy. Compact fluorescent light bulbs have a little bit of mercury in it. They have milligrams of mercury, so very small amounts. And then when we’re reducing that down, so more modern compact fluorescents have even less mercury in them. But you can also get lamps that are LED lights. I encourage people to look into LED lights, which I [inaudible 00:10:50]. LED lights use less electricity.
But the [concept] for us in light bulbs, we need to them up and we need to dispose of them. When they burn out, you really need to take them to Hazardous Waste site again and dispose them properly because even that small amount of mercury, you don’t just want to throw it in the trash and get it back into the environment. And I think that’s one thing that’s one thing that United States struggle with, how to dispose of this light.
So if you do break one at home, don’t use your vacuum cleaner. I would recommend just sweeping it up and even getting some tape, like some masking tape and adhering the debris to the tape and then [wrap] it up. And if you rea¬-lly good about it, you can take that to the Hazardous Waste site. If not, I recommend just throwing it away because you really want to get it out of your house and clean it up as best as possible.
But really the best option is again to prevent things, not to drop the fluorescent light bulbs, to take really good care of them, take them to Hazardous Waste when you want to dispose of them. And clean it up as best as possible in the home.
If you break the thermometer, it’s the same thing. You use duct tape to clean up those little drops of mercury. Do not use a vacuum cleaner because the vacuum cleaner picks it up and the hot air will vaporize mercury and will blow up the vacuum cleaner. So you do not vacuum up mercury. Take duct tape, stick the mercury to the tape and then take it to Hazardous Waste to dispose of it properly.
DEBRA: Good. I totally agree with all of that. So tell us what happens in your body when you are exposed to mercury?
STEVEN GILBERT: So we learned a lot about mercury. I’ll just do a little history from Minamata Bay in Japan. This is in the 1950s where a large chemical plant was releasing mercury into the bay, the Minamata Bay. At that time, the ’50s thought that the solution to pollution is dilution. So you just thrust the pile into the oceans and think the ocean will go away.
DEBRA: Oh my god.
STEVEN GILBERT: Again and again, we learn this countless times that it’s just not the case and we must be really careful with our environment whether it’s plastics we’re throwing away, the big plastic jars on the oceans or throwing mercury into the environment.
So the problem was the fish consumed the mercury. As I mentioned, it turns into methylmercury, the bio-accumulation of fish. So at first, the cats were getting sick in the fishing community. So the people started getting sick and the kids in particular were affected. This was well-documented and Minamata disease is what it’s called this time.
So it really drove home the point that the placenta is not a great de-toxicant. So the mercury moves across the placenta.
Actually further research years later determined that placenta is actually a sink for mercury. Sorry, the fetus is actually a sink for the mercury. And so the fetus will have higher mercury levels than the mom. This is very important because that exposure affects the developing nervous system.
So this is a great lesson learned in the ’50s that placenta is not a great barrier and we really, really have to be careful because even small amounts of mercury are hazardous. Large amounts are extremely hazardous.
So from then on, we really focused on is there a safe level of mercury consumed and how do you regulate mercury? I’ve done many studies on this. The low level of methylmercury exposure is particularly hazardous to children and their developing nervous system causing neurological disorders, reduced intelligence and more subtle things like depression, lack of sleep, headache and things like that. But the real hazard is for developing children, developing fetus and developing their nervous system and the reduction in intellectual ability.
That’s what organic mercury or methylmercury is. They have similar hazards. It’s slightly different with inorganic mercury. It can also affect adults. So it is shown that adults are not off the hook. People consume a lot of tuna fish, a lot of high mercury content fish can have a variety of sleep disturbances, headache, fatigue, lack of coordination, muscle and joint pains, hair thinning, heart rate disturbance, hypertension, tremor. All these things come along with consumption of mercury.
For example, this little case study here, a 64 year anthropologist who ate fish nine times a week who was often choosing tuna, swordfish, sea bass suffered chronic fatigue, headaches and hair loss. He had a mercury level of 21 micrograms per liter. And the EPA recommends about five or even less for women of child-bearing age because the fetus is a potential sink.
So women should be much more careful with their mercury consumption.
So it’s complicated. It’s a long story. There’s a lot of [inaudible 00:15:37] on mercury from many different states. And the FDA [weighs in] on this. We can get into regulatory stuff if you’d like.
DEBRA: Well, I am thinking about when I was a child the first time I ate fish. I spit it out and I have rarely eaten fish or seafood. I’ll occasionally eat shrimp, but I just don’t eat fish at all from any source. And I think it’s because my body just said,
“No, there’s something wrong with this.”
STEVEN GILBERT: Well, I don’t wanted scare you with fish consumption because fish is a really important source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
DEBRA: Yeah, I know.
STEVEN GILBERT: I mean it’s a really important food source for the many people of the world. There are good fishes to eat. For example, salmon is better because it’s not as long lived. It’s not high in the food chain. So fishes like salmon will have lower mercury levels in them. And you just have to look at the list of fish particularly recommended by your state and where you’re fishing and look at what fishes have lower mercury content in them.
But fish is really good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and it’s important. And the FDA recommends a small amount of fish per week.
DEBRA: I know. There’s also fish oil and for years, I didn’t take fish oil, but I did another show with somebody and all we talked about was fish oil. And I learned—wait, I’ll talk more about this when we come back from a break because we are actually running over.
You are listening to Toxic Free Talk radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert and his website is Toxipedia.org. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You are listening to Toxic Free Talk radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert and his website is Toxipedia.org. And he’s also the author of A Small Dose of Toxicology, which I think you all know by now, I highly recommend.
So before the break, I started talking about fish oil and what I wanted to say is that a couple of weeks ago, I did a show with Pamela Seefeld who is a pharmacologist and she explained to us about how women make high quality fish oil. And I am not talking about the cheap sets, but something that you would get a high quality medical grade fish oil.
But they are only taking that oil from the very smaller fish like sardines and anchovies. And when they process it, they are processing it so finely. There’s protein from the fish in it, but there’s also no pollutants in it.
So if you want to take fish oil and I actually started taking fish oil for the first time after listening to her interview. And it’s such a good source of all kinds of things. It does good things for your body and I can tell the difference already. I think I should have been taking fish oil all the time, but I was afraid to take it because of mercury and not liking to eat fish. But I think people, if you get a good quality fish oil, you should feel confident that it’s okay to take it. Do you agree?
STEVEN GILBERT: Yes. I think that is a good supplement. I think you do have to be careful what fish oil you use because the older, the bigger the fish, the more mercury they tend to have in them. So anchovies and smaller fishes that have shorter life span will have less mercury in them.
Also with fish oils, be worried about organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides or chlorinated pesticides because they’re in the fat. So fish oil will accumulate some of those compounds depending on where the fish was sourced from.
And PCB is widely distributed in the environment, used in transformers with some of the rivers like Hudson at elevated levels. There’s an area around Seattle called the Duwamish Area where there’s also PCB in the water system and in the sediment. So you have to be cautious about that, but my view is everything in moderation including moderation.
DEBRA: I agree. So tell us more about mercury.
STEVEN GILBERT: So mercury, a little bit about mercury, I just want to get into a little bit of toxicology of mercury because it is widely regulated around the world. And there was just a treaty passed on mercury, the [inaudible 00:20:12] convention treaty in trying to limit the transportation and sale of inorganic mercury around the world because it’s a by-product of mining.
There’s a lot of mercury in the environment. And one of the problems is where to store the mercury that we have accumulated. It’s widely used in the nuclear industry. So many sites are contaminated with mercury. And old mines are contaminated with mercury. So it is something that we’ve managed to spread around the environment.
On the regulatory side, the US Food and Drug Administration sets a level that fish do not have more than one part per million of methylmercury in the fish. This may sound very small amount, but its’ really not typically if you look at what the US Environmental Protection Agency sets as a reference dose. So reference dose is how much you consume on a daily basis over lifetime and expect no hazardous consequences.
So the USPDA set the level of 0.1 micrograms per kilogram per day. So it’s 0.1 micrograms per kilogram per day. So it’s related to your body weight.
DEBRA: Could you just translate that into a measurement? Most people don’t know what a kilogram is and the microgram. How many teaspoons?
STEVEN GILBERT: Well, that’s a really great question. So how many fish you consume? That depends on how much mercury is in that fish. And that’s what the FDA tries to regulate with that one part per million or it’s actually one milligram per kilogram in the fish.
So a kilogram is about 2.2 lbs. So you can have one milligram, a very small amount, one part per million in the fish. But if you look at what the EPA recommends that you can consume, the 0.1 microgram per kilogram, it takes a little [flexing] around with the various nomenclature here and you convert your body weight into kilograms and figure out how much fish you consume, how much mercury you consume, how much fish you can consume. It is not very much.
So that’s a problem. You cannot consume a lot of fishes that have a lot of mercury in them. So swordfish, shark, some tuna fish like old tuna can have fairly high or above one part per million mercury in the flesh of the fish and you rapidly go over the amount you safely consume per day.
And this has been shown. We just published a paper on this a couple of years ago for adults consuming this. It’s even more hazardous for children and women in child-bearing age. So it’s a tough one and the US EPA is actually reviewing its RD and trying to come up with a new standard. And some people, myself included, are pushing for lower standards and we like to see the FDA be a little bit more aggressive about monitoring the mercury content of fish, but also lowering the one part per million to at least 0.5. [inaudible 00:23:20] has a level of 0.5 ppm of mercury for retail fish and seafood.
DEBRA: So do they test it? Do they test the fish for mercury levels?
STEVEN GILBERT: Not usually.
DEBRA: Okay. I think a good idea would be—and you can tell me what you think of this. I think they should be testing fish when they come off the ship and find out the parts per million and they should put that information on the package.
STEVEN GILBERT: I think that would be great. It would be tough to do it for a lot of the fish because there’s a huge amount of fish that come through. But at least doing more testing and labeling the fish in the stores as to what might be the mercury content like the tuna fish, which you will expect high levels of mercury in them and with fishes who have a lower concentration of mercury…
DEBRA: Yeah. Even if they didn’t tell you, “We tested this and this is the exact number,” if the fish package has had a little sticker on them that says, “This is a high mercury fish or a low mercury fish,” I think that that would help a lot because there are lists that you can get. I mean you could just—what would you look on? How would you search of that? Well, probably low mercury fish list or something like that that you would get because I know that there are a lot of lists.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. There are a lot of lists around. Most [inaudible 00:24:41] got good one.
STEVEN GILBERT: There’s a number of websites out there that will list the mercury and the recommended fish consumption [inaudible 00:24:52] and all kinds of information.
DEBRA: Yeah. So if you are eating fish, you absolutely should learn the fishes that have the lowest in mercury. I don’t think that there’s anybody, any system that’s watching out to catch those fishes that have a whole lot of mercury in them and make sure that they get diverted and not be sold in the store.
STEVEN GILBERT: Right.
DEBRA: That’s just not going on in the world today.
STEVEN GILBERT: The fishes to avoid are sharks, swordfish, king mackerel, king fish. They are the big ones to avoid. And then there are some others, the tuna fish. Basically you want to limit your consumption of fish that may have higher levels of mercury in them.
DEBRA: Good. We need to go to break. You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert. His book is A Small Dose of Toxicology and his website is Toxipedia.org. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest is toxicologist, Dr. Steven Gilbert and his website is Toxipedia.org.
Tell us some of the other places we might encounter mercury.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. That’s a good question. I’ll give you another example of mercury because it is just a good antifungal, antibacterial agent put in paint. And it’s often used in bathrooms because they kill mold. The problem was there’s a little bit of mercury in the paint.
So in 1990,I think it was in 1990 or early 1990s, a family painted their baby’s room, baby boy’s room with mercury based paint without understanding the consequences of that. And the mercury actually evaporated to the walls and the child absorbed that mercury and got sick from mercury exposure. So that was one of the things to try to limit mercury.
And by large, there’s been a huge effort to limit distribution of mercury in the environment. And really…
DEBRA: Wait a minute. Wait. Do they still put mercury in paint?
STEVEN GILBERT: No, they stopped doing that. So 1991, I believe they stopped putting mercury in paint because it was—people thought it was good, mercury was good. It’s very toxic. It’s good for stopping growth of mold and other bacteria and fungus because it is toxic. But the consequences can be hazardous to human health too, so that’s why they stopped mercury in paint.
DEBRA: Yeah. Okay, good. I just want to make sure…
STEVEN GILBERT: But what I want to emphasize is that mercury is in coal. And so our answer to try to reduce the amount of electricity use is actually very important because reducing electricity use reduce the need for coal fired [inaudible 00:27:45] plants. And this has been an ongoing struggle across the United States.
For example, Washington State has a big battle about trying to ship coal to China. China burns coal and the mercury come to the Pacific Ocean. So our use of electricity is directly related to the mercury in fish, which is related to our health. So if you are using compact fluorescent light bulbs, switch to LEDs, try to reduce your mercury or your electricity use.
And this year, I put solar panels on the roof of my house trying to reduce the amount of electricity that we’re using. I think we all have a responsibility to try to look at the bigger picture, the consequence by action. And mercury is one of those things that do have a big consequence and there are ways that we can try to reduce the tendency of the technology, the industries that generate mercury in the atmosphere.
DEBRA: I think that’s a really good point and I’m glad that you brought it up because I just want to emphasize. We tend to think of environmental exposure as being out there somewhere and we don’t always see the direct actions of the environment being polluted with these toxic chemicals because of our actions.
It’s like if we were to open a can of gasoline or something in our house, we would see that that is a toxic exposure to us in our house. But when we use electric, other actions like driving cars and things, the pollutants are happening out there someplace else, but we are breathing that air. As Dr. Gilbert said, the mercury is going into the ocean and then it goes into the fish.
And so we need to consider our actions and how they affect the environment just as we consider our actions and how we create toxic chemicals, the exposures in our homes because those things come back to us then when we bring those other resources that are out there in the environment like a fish for example. We bring that in to our homes. We’ve brought that toxic chemical into our homes. So there is this direct connection between what we do and what goes on out there.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah. I that’s really well said Debra. I think that’s really important point to make.
DEBRA: Thank you.
STEVEN GILBERT: Our actions are small, but we have actions of millions of people and they add up to big consequences.
And mercury is a great example of that where we need to reduce the mercury in fish. And that means we need to reduce the mercury that’s being released in the environment. That means we need to reduce the coal fire burning of coal fire utility plants, which means individually we need to reuse the electricity we are using.
And then it also extends to nuclear power plants because nuclear is one of the options. To try to reduce the amount of electricity also reduces the need for nuclear power plants.
DEBRA: Yes, yes, exactly. And we shouldn’t have nuclear plants at all in my opinion. And I just commend you on putting solar panels. That’s been something on my list for a long time.
Can you just say something about that for a minute because they are pretty expensive? Are there programs to help? How did you make that happen?
STEVEN GILBERT: You’re right. Washington State is a really good state. It has pretty good incentives. Right now, at the Federal Incentives, you get 30% back on your taxes. So let’s say you put $30,000 solar power plant, which is pretty expensive, but you would get 30% of that back about almost $10,000 back. So the plant costs you 20,000.
And with the advancement of technology in the solar panels, the payback in a well-situated house is about five to six years with incentives. So for example in Washington State, we can sell the power back to Seattle City Light. We sell it back to our city light utility. And every August, I will get a check and the power is sold back.
DEBRA: Oh, great.
STEVEN GILBERT: I sold it July. So last two months, I generated over two megawatts of power and sold roughly 1.25. So 1.25 megawatts power back to Seattle City Light, which reduces my electric bill. And I’m going to get a check on August by doing that.
Unfortunately, Florida, in my understanding, does not have good incentive. And Florida, in where you are I believe, has a great amount of solar potential. It’s not being utilized because [inaudible 00:32:18].
DEBRA: Yes. It’s very under-utilized.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, it really is. You’d use it otherwise. It is possible that Florida could be generating a lot of power, but there are not good incentives for using solar panels in Florida because the power companies have really worked hard to reduce the incentive to use solar power.
DEBRA: It is what is going on here.
STEVEN GILBERT: So I think individually one way to go is you look at Europe. They are much more in solar power like Germany is trying to reduce dependency on nuclear power plants, switching more to solar.
And we can do a lot more in ¬states like Florida and several other states could do a lot more and create incentives for individuals to generate the solar power right from their homes.
DEBRA: Right here, where I lived, they are wanting to put in a nuclear power plant.
STEVEN GILBERT: Oh there you go. And that’s because…
DEBRA: And they should take that money and just put solar panels on all our houses.
STEVEN GILBERT: Yeah, You should invest. You can take all the money you invest in nuclear power and we can get alternatives to nuclear power. [inaudible 00:33:16] program in that someday. It was just not economically feasible for huge centralized power sources, but we should really be moving towards distributed power systems.
For example, my ability to feed power directly back to the [inaudible 00:33:31] through grid during the day when the sun is out. Even right now, I could look and I could tell you how much power I’m generating. I have a really neat gadget on the system. And we are generating about 3000 watts of power and I’m feeding almost two watts of power back to electric grid right as we are talking.
So this is very powerful technology. It’s really well-developed and it feeds directly back to reducing use of coal and reducing the mercury in the environment and improving health of our children.
DEBRA: Yay. Well, we’ve only got about three minutes left. So what else would you like to tell us in three minutes?
STEVEN GILBERT: I just want to say eat well. Being careful about nutrition is really important. And watch the fishes. And fishes are also contaminated like I mentioned with PCBs and other fat-soluble compounds. So you got to be careful with those contaminants in fish. It’s not just mercury you have to be worried about unfortunately. But watch out for that because these fat-soluble compounds are also potentially harmful particularly for the developing child.
And mercury, I encourage people to read up about mercury because it is widely used in the environment. It’s got many different uses. And because it converts to organic mercury and methylmercury, it gets into the environment and in our food supply. And we have mercury in our teeth, which are the amalgams, which is inorganic mercury. And that’s also source of contamination.
And as a side fact on that one, the problem with cremation is you create somebody and the mercury in their teeth in their teeth goes up smoke stack when they get out to the environment. So there are many good reasons for not using mercury amalgams in our teeth anymore. I generally recommend that. And some countries actually banned the use of mercury amalgams. And it’s less common in the United States, but it is still widely available.
DEBRA: Wow. We’ve learned so much about mercury today. It’s something that I know that I’ve had a lot of attention on as a toxic substance and it’s something that I think people widely know that there’s a problem with it. But we’ve learned so much more about it today. So thank you so much for joining with us.
STEVEN GILBERT: And I think mercury is fascinating. It’s a great, great example of toxicology, how we have learned more about that. And we really recognize that very small amounts of mercury are harmful to developing nervous system and harmful to our children’s health. And we really have an ethical responsibility to ensure that our children can reach and maintain their full potential. I know I work hard with that with my grandchildren, making sure they are not exposed or exposed mainly to all hazards out there.
We are responsible to them. We have to look not only to our own kids, but also globally. What can we do to affect the global distribution of toxicants and child health around the world?
DEBRA: I agree, totally agree. Well, thank you so much for being with us today. Again, this is Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist. His website is Toxipedia.org.
His book is A Small Dose of Toxicology and it contains a lot of what we were talking about today. So if you weren’t taking notes, you can go look in the book and a lot of it will be there and it is also the basis of mostly the shows that we are doing.
It’s like a book that goes along with what we are talking about. Anyway, A Small Dose of Toxicology at Toxipedia.org.
You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.