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Rochester residents tested for mercury exposure

Rochester residents tested for mercury exposure
Lasata Salon stylist Jody Hawkins of Byron, right, cuts a hair swatch from Darcy Fjosne of Rochester on Wednesday. Swatches will be sent in through the Sierra Club and tested for mercury.

Darcy Fjosne runs occasional tests for mercury as part of her job in the metals lab at Mayo Clinic, but she herself had never been tested.

Curious about the level of toxic mercury in her body, Fjosne was one of 40 people who submitted hair samples for mercury testing Wednesday at LaSata Salon in Rochester. The Sierra Club is paying for the tests.

In her work, Fjosne said she has detected high levels of mercury in some people. Even so, she said, "I never think about the mercury levels in the fish and seafood I eat."

Wednesday's event, however, gave her pause to be more aware of the Department of Natural Resources fish guidelines, she said.

The Sierra Club has been sponsoring mercury tests throughout the country in recent years to empasize the danger of mercury contamination.


The primary way of having increased levels of mercury in your body is through eating fish, said Jessica Trato, Sierra Club field organizer. Women of child-bearing age should be the most aware of the fish they eat because even low levels of mercury can contribute to birth defects, including neurological and developmental disorders, learning disabilities, delayed onset of walking and talking, and cerebral palsy, according to a 2000 study.

All of Minnesota's lakes and streams are contaminated with mercury, which is largely emitted into the atmosphere through coal-fired power plants, Trato said. The Silver Lake Plant in Rochester emitted 8 pounds of mercury in 2009, she said, noting that a teaspoon can contaminate a 40-acre lake.

Having lived near the Silver Lake Plant for 50 years prompted Genny Rice to have her hair tested.

She'd like to see better emissions reduction systems at the plant, she said.

RPU spokesman Tony Benson said that while it's true that the Silver Lake plant released 8 pounds of mercury in 2009, 84 percent of that was captured and disposed of in a landfill and just 1.34 pounds, was emitted into the atmosphere. About 90 percent of the mercury in the air in Minnesota comes from other states and countries, Benson added.

RPU recently completed a $34 million Emissions Reduction Project on the largest generating unit at the Silver Lake power plant that reduced emissions in mercury, as well as in other pollutants.

The small sample of hair provided by each test participant will be analyzed at the University of Georgia. Participants will receive their results in four to six weeks.

Two stylists volunteered to come in two hours early to collect the hair samples, including Theresa Grant, owner of LaSata Salon.


The test fit well with the Aveda Earth Month events being held at the salon to raise money for clean water, she said.

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