What is mercury and why did it shut down a Salt Lake City pond?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Salt Lake City officials shut down the pond in Fairmont Park after finding mercury in the water during testing. While they believe there is no immediate risk caused by this potential contamination, city officials closed the pond “out of an abundance of caution.”

On Wednesday, Salt Lake City officials explained community members reported a sheen on the water of the Fairmont Park pond a couple of weeks ago. Envirocare was used to remove the water impacted by the sheen. When that water was tested, mercury was found. The city says it has also received reports of dead ducks being found in the pond but they are unsure if this is caused by the mercury.

Salt Lake City Director of Public Utilities Laura Briefer says the water in the pond is not connected to the City’s drinking water system.

“In fact, it’s not used for irrigation either, so the risk of exposure…we believe…is quite small but again we want to make sure we cover our bases,” Briefer explains. She says the concentrations detected in the water aren’t high in terms of exposure risk. The City is already working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Utah Department of Health to identify any risks and figure out the next steps.  The city is completing confirmation testing on the pond and expects to have an update by Thursday afternoon.  

What is mercury?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the air, water, and soil, according to Utah’s Environmental Public Health Tracking. It can exist in several forms, including elemental or metallic, inorganic, and organic. Mercury is used in thermometers, switches, and light bulbs, for example.

Burning coal and other fossil fuels is the largest source of mercury pollution but factories, mining activities, and burning trash can also increase levels of mercury in the environment. If mercury is in the air, rain, snow, and sleet can bring it down to our lakes and rivers.

Some fish from specific areas in Utah can contain chemicals like mercury that pose health risks. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has issued consumption advisories for some of these fish in recent years.

What are the risks of mercury?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in addition to being exposed by eating contaminated fish or shellfish, other ways to be exposed include:

  • Breathing vapors in air from spills, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.
  • Release of mercury from dental work and medical treatments.
  • Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact during use in the workplace.
  • Practicing rituals that include mercury.

Mercury can impact your nervous system, the CDC says. They say methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are the most harmful. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic forms of mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.

Animals exposed to mercury may also experience damage to the kidneys, stomach, and large intestine as well as blood pressure and heart rate, developing young, reproductive organs, and miscarriages and stillbirths.

What happens now?

For Salt Lake City, officials have closed Fairmont Park pond out of an abundance of caution. While officials say there is a small risk of exposure for visitors to the park, the closure is to “make sure we cover our bases.” Concentrations of mercury found in the pond are not high in terms of exposure risk.

Currently, Salt Lake City is completing confirmation testing on the pond and expects to have an update by Thursday afternoon.  

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