In this page we discuss several important concepts that are beginning to have an impact on human health. Several times, we have had feedback from people who are concerned about heavy metals and other contamination of the ocean and we have made it a point to research this questions while being focused on Ocean Water.
To answer the question at the onset - without going deeper into the substantiating rationale... NO - Ocean Water is not a significant threat of pollution and is not a significant source of pollutants and heavy metals such as mercury. We are looking at Ocean Water (pure ocean water) with confidence and not with suspicion. Let us just make one sweeping statement here and you can then decide to move on with your life or study the question a little deeper: mercury and heavy metals accumulate more and more in the target organism the higher up one deals with the involved food chain. Ocean Water is at the very bottom of the food chain, even if ingested orally over a long period.
When ocean water has been ingested or assimilated by plants and plankton and microbial organisms, then the contaminants begin to be concentrated, stored, and transmuted in that organism. Contaminants also accumulate in ocean sediments and are assimilated by organisms from there, and contaminants are also more abundant in run-offs and coastal areas, all of which may have nothing to do with human activity; but they are there nonetheless! These plants and plankton are then assimilated by other creatures, such as shrimp, fish, lobster etc. and the higher one goes up the food chain before becoming the end consumer, the more pollutants and contaminates are concentrated and stored and otherwise transformed in that last chain LINK in the food chain such as certain fish, mainly large and older fish, that can contain in excess of a million times the amount of toxins that are naturally present in ocean water - Ocean Water. Let's look at the ramifications - the more one eats of ocean fish or other ocean creatures, the more one also consumes contaminants, e.g. mercury and heavy metals as well as other contaminants. Indigenous people in the higher Northern regions are particularly vulnerable to this process.
So, before we start analyzing the reasons behind our rationale, let's quickly address the remedy to this dilemma: If you wish to avoid contamination and cumulative amounts of toxic metals and other contaminants arising from the consumption of fish and other ocean-derived products, then you might simply want stay away from marine food or consume such food (fish etc.) only from known and uncontaminated sources, e.g. eat Farmed Salmon instead of Pacific Salmon. Go lower down on the food chain. Sprinkle some seaweed (kelp) on your salad, drink a little Ocean Water every day.
Let us start with Mercury...
A mountain of research has been done and is presently in progress of being added to by a variety of agencies, mainly Environment Canada and the EPA as well as many research groups that are privately funded. There is a staggering amount of information on the Internet attesting to the fact that this is a very powerful and current subject and a page such as this cannot possibly do justice to this subject - but we can get you thinking and possibly modifying your life style to prevent further accumulation of toxins and an improved status of health and well-being.
You see, mercury is a naturally occurring, toxic metal. Over the past several hundred years, human releases of mercury – both intentional and incidental – have greatly increased the amount of mercury in the environment but it also originates as natural run-off by rain leaching mercury from the ground into the oceans. Industrially, mercury is released by a variety of sources including coal-fired power plants, chemical plants, waste-burning incinerators, dental offices, tailings of gold mines and landfills.
Once released into the environment, mercury is highly volatile and continuously cycles between air, water, and land. When mercury enters lakes and rivers, it is converted into its most toxic form called methylmercury. Mercury does not break down in the environment, rather, it accumulates in ever-more toxic concentrations as it works its way up the food chain. As a result, large predatory fish such as bass and trout can have mercury levels up to one million times that of the surrounding water. People and wildlife that eat these mercury-contaminated fish are at great risk of exposure.
A bit of chemistry underlying the toxic effects of mercury
The toxic effects of mercury depend on its chemical form and the route of exposure. Methylmercury [CH3Hg] is the most toxic form.
Elemental mercury, Hg(0), the form released from broken thermometers, causes tremors, gingivitis, and excitability when vapors are inhaled over a long period of time. Although it is less toxic than methylmercury, elemental mercury may be found in higher concentrations in environments such as gold mine sites, where it has been used to extract gold. If elemental mercury is ingested, it is absorbed relatively slowly and may pass through the digestive system without causing damage. Ingestion of other common forms of mercury, such as the salt HgCl2, which damages the gastrointestinal tract and causes kidney failure, is unlikely from environmental sources.
The risks and consequences of ingesting mercuryThe danger to humans and wildlife from consuming mercury-contaminated fish is severe. Mercury and its derivatives affect the immune system, alters genetic and enzyme systems, and damages the nervous system, including coordination of the senses of touch, taste, and sight. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that also harms the development and function of the cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Important! Methylmercury is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults. Exposure to methylmercury is usually by ingestion, and it is absorbed more readily and excreted more slowly than other forms of mercury. The National Research Council, in its 2000 report on the toxicological effects of methylmercury, pointed out that the population at highest risk is the offspring of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood. The report went on to estimate that more than 60,000 children are born each year at risk for adverse neurodevelopmental effects due to in-utero exposure to methylmercury. Pregnant women and children are most endangered by mercury, as a consequence of exposure and which is most devastating during early stages of development. Health problems in children linked to prenatal and childhood methylmercury exposure include impaired motor skills, attention span, memory, and language development. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently estimated that 630,000 newborns in America are at risk of unsafe levels of mercury exposure.(1) Adult health problems linked to mercury exposure include loss of coordination and memory, along with blood pressure problems and increased risk of heart disease.
People that are exposed to methylmercury by eating contaminated fish and wildlife are mostly at the top of aquatic food chain. In its 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that mercury may also pose a risk to some adults and wildlife populations that consume large amounts of fish that are contaminated by mercury.
Mercury is not just harmful to people, it also poses a serious risk to a variety of wildlife species. Fish-eating wildlife – including otter, mink, and many birds such as loons, herons, and eagles – have been found with elevated mercury levels. Recent studies have also found high mercury levels in wildlife that do not eat fish, indicating that mercury is finding its way into the larger food web. Documented adverse effects of mercury levels found in wildlife include a decreased ability to reproduce, impaired growth and development, abnormal behavior, and death.
How can I avoid consuming mercury in fish?
Options for avoiding the mercury in mercury contaminated fish are more limited than for fish contaminated with PCBs, Dioxins and other organic contaminants. Younger fish tend to have lower concentrations of mercury than older, larger fish within the same water body. Mercury concentrates in the muscle tissue of fish. So, unlike PCBs, dioxins and other organic contaminants that concentrate in the skin and fat, mercury cannot be filleted or cooked out of consumable game fish.
Due to the severe risks of mercury exposure, many North American states and provinces have issued fish consumption advisories - warning people to limit or avoid eating certain species of fish because of mercury contamination. While these measures are necessary to protect public health, the increasing prevalence of mercury consumption advisories threatens the country’s multi-billion dollar fishing industry. (What a pity because the 34 million people who fished in the U.S. in 2001 generated nearly $36 billion in revenue.(2) )
It seems that approximately 4.5 million anglers in the Mid-Atlantic region generate $6.3 billion in revenue each year. This substantial contribution to the region’s economy will remain threatened unless meaningful action is taken to address the serious mercury contamination problems we face.
1 Mahaffey, Kathryn, “Methylmercury: epidemiology update”, Presentation
at the Fish Forum, San Diego (2004). Available at:
2 American Sportfishing Association, Sportfishing in America: Values of Our
Traditional Pastime (2002).
Additional Sources of Mercury
Alkali and metal processing, incineration of coal, and medical and other waste, and mining of gold and mercury contribute greatly to mercury concentrations in some areas, but atmospheric deposition is the dominant source of mercury over most of the landscape. Once in the atmosphere, mercury is widely disseminated and can circulate for years, accounting for its wide-spread distribution. Natural sources of atmospheric mercury include volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, and volatilization from the ocean. Although all rocks, sediments, water, and soils naturally contain small but varying amounts of mercury, scientists have found some local mineral occurrences and thermal springs that are naturally high in mercury.
What factors affect methylation?
Methylation is a product of complex processes that move and transform mercury. Atmospheric deposition contains the three principal forms of mercury, although inorganic divalent mercury (HgII) is the dominant form. Once in surface water, mercury enters a complex cycle in which one form can be converted to another. Mercury attached to particles can settle onto the sediments where it can diffuse into the water column, be resuspended, be buried by other sediments, or be methylated. Methylmercury can enter the food chain, or it can be released back to the atmosphere by volatilization.
The concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and pH have a strong effect on the ultimate fate of mercury in an ecosystem. Studies have shown that for the same species of fish taken from the same region, increasing the acidity of the water (decreasing pH) and/or the DOC content generally results in higher mercury levels in fish, an indicator of greater net methylation. Higher acidity and DOC levels enhance the mobility of mercury in the environment, thus making it more likely to enter the food chain.
Mercury and methylmercury exposure to sunlight (specifically ultra-violet light) has an overall detoxifying effect. Sunlight can break down methylmercury to Hg(II) or Hg(0), which can leave the aquatic environment and reenter the atmosphere as a gas.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has issued an eye-opening report that we feel has an impact on the oceans and on Ocean Water as well...
Most contaminants travel to northern Canada from the south and the rest of the circumpolar Arctic on air and ocean currents. Climate change is modifying these currents and as a result scientists expect to see higher levels of some contaminants in the Canadian North.
Climate change is modifying air and ocean currents and as a result scientists expect to see higher levels of some contaminants in the Canadian North. As species and patterns of plants and animals react to climate change, food webs are expected to become longer. Contaminants will likely bioaccumulate and biomagnify in ways not yet understood. With climate change, contaminants from Russian rivers are expected to flow more into the Canadian Arctic Ocean than before.
The polar ice cap is shrinking and getting thinner because of climate change, and may disappear entirely within the next 100 years. Climate change is also changing the habitat of wildlife species such as polar bears by changing the sea ice. Such changes already appear to be negatively affecting polar bears in Hudson Bay as the ice is important for them to find and catch their main prey, seals.
The Arctic and Heavy metals
With climate change and a stronger Arctic Oscillation, scientists expect less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice normally prevents mercury from leaving the ocean and entering the atmosphere. Because of climate change, more mercury may therefore move into the atmosphere from the ocean. The strength and location of the polar sunrise phenomenon (when mercury moves from the air to the snow surface) may also change.
As permafrost melts and temperatures rise, lakes and rivers will contain more organic matter and, therefore, more mercury. (Mercury levels are generally higher where there is more organic matter.) The mercury will be carried in rivers to lakes and coastal areas where it is more available to freshwater and marine animals. Once mercury enters the food web, top predators are likely to accumulate more mercury.
Lead enters the Arctic Ocean primarily from the Atlantic Ocean or the Laptev Sea and current levels of lead are highest in Eurasian Basin sediments. However, with climate change, ocean currents are expected to transport lead into the Canada Basin, especially from sources in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Cadmium in the Arctic Ocean comes primarily from natural sources. With climate change, less water is expected to flow from the North Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean. The Bering Strait is particularly rich in cadmium and thus less of this heavy metal is expected to end up in the Arctic Ocean. Cadmium is also found in ocean upwellings (places where water moves from the deeper ocean to the surface). The location and strength of upwellings along the edges of the ocean shelves and among the Canadian Arctic islands is expected to change as a result of climate change. Cadmium levels in these locations are also expected to change.
Persistent organic pollutants
Climate change is expected to divert the flow of Russian rivers into the Canada Basin. This water will also stay longer in the Arctic Ocean than it does today. The actual levels of certain POPs in the Canada Basin may decrease, however, despite these changes in flows, as some pesticides (e.g., DDT and HCHs) are no longer being used in most countries.
As the ocean becomes warmer, some POPs (e.g., HCHs) will likely evaporate from the water into the atmosphere while PCBs and endosulfan will tend to be deposited more onto the water. As a result, both PCBs and endosulfan are expected to become more available to plants and animals in the marine food web.
Testing for Contaminants
The Greater Vancouver Science Fair Foundation is asking...
Is seaweed a good bioindicator of toxic heavy metal contamination in the marine environment? I tested this idea by collecting rockweed Fucus gadneri, a common inter-tidal brown algae found on the West Coast, from several sites around the coastal area of Vancouver and the Howe Sound. I chose sites which were close to possible sources of metal pollution. Sites included: the sewage treatment plant near Ambleside; Cates Park, North Vancouver, near to shipbuilding yards and oil refineries; the Squamish spit near to the Britannia Beach mine; Port Mellon pulp and paper mill; False Creek where there is boating, a marina and a previous industrial area; and Davis Bay on the Sunshine Coast which I hoped would serve as a background indicator. The seaweed was collected and placed in glass jars, dried with paper towel and then frozen in ziplock bags. It was delivered to CanTest for analyses. The samples were ground up and digested in nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide. They were then heated and the moisture content was separated. An Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma Mass Spectrometer was used to measure heavy metals, and a Cold Vapour Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer was used to measure mercury content in the seaweed.
The results confirmed the hypothesis, that Fucus gardneri is a good bioindicator of heavy metals in the marine ecosystem. Copper and iron were found at elevated levels in samples from Cates Park, and Squamish. This is expected because of the industrial activity in those areas. Cadmium, which is associated with municipal storm water run-off, and which has been the focus of research at UBC for mussel and oyster contamination, showed very little variation within the sites. Boron is associated with sewage treatment plants and was highest in samples from Ambleside. Lead and mercury, two important heavy metal contaminants often found in the environment two decades ago, were not found at elevated levels in any of the samples. This confirms the action taken to remove them from use. Aluminum which is often associated with industry was detected at high concentrations in the samples from Port Mellon, Cates Park, and Squamish. Zinc and chromium, which are associated with steel manufacturing, were measured at highest concentrations in the samples from Cates Park. Some metals such as tin, silver, and nickel, were found to be very low in all samples and showed little variation between the six sites. Arsenic which is commonly found within the marine environment varied little in the six samples. However, the different forms of arsenic were not separated and the presence of organic arsenic compounds were not distinguished.
It is recognized that further research is needed to confirm these results. In particular, many more samples need to be analyzed to be certain of the sensitivity of Fucus gardneri as a bioindicator of heavy metals in ocean water. Careful experiments to study the response of Fucus gardneri when placed in ocean water modified with specific heavy metals can measure how quickly the seaweed responds to the pollutant.
Really - we need not be concerned about levels of heavy metals, contaminants, toxins and pollutants in raw ocean water as harvested by a responsible organization such as Ocean Water Inc. We are dealing with the very BOTTOM of the food chain - the source level of creation. The harvesting methods of Ocean Water Inc. are as careful and conscientious as they are proven and based on 100 years of Ocean Water success in therapy of all kinds. Further purification and anti-microbial treatment ensures as much purity as is possible while maintaining the vitality and efficacy of Ocean Water according to a very logical rationale of 'substance'. This does not obviate our responsibility to be conscious of the consequences of eating high up in the marine food chain. This is where this knowledge will go a long way to ensure better health and well-being.
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