Mercury, Fish, and Public Health Concerns: The Proposed Donlin Gold Mine

May 26, 2021 @ 10:00am (AKDT)

Mercury is considered one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern by the World Health Organization. Exposure to mercury, particularly methyl mercury, even at low levels, can cause irreparable harm to the developing brain and nervous system and is especially concerning for pregnant women and children. The top two sources of mercury contamination in the Arctic are atmospheric transport of mercury from coal combustion and from more localized releases of mercury from active and abandoned gold and mercury mines. Mercury released from these sites enters aquatic and marine environments, bioaccumulating up the food chain into larger fish, marine mammals, birds, and terrestrial animals including humans. In Southwest Alaska, a vibrant region rich in fish and marine and terrestrial life, the proposed Donlin Gold Mine has raised questions about the risk of mercury releases from the mine and health risks associated with increased methylmercury contamination in local foods.

This webinar was recorded on May 26 and entitled Mercury, Fish, and Public Health Concerns: The Proposed Donlin Gold Mine. We were joined by a panel of speakers to discuss concerns associated with the proposed Donlin Gold Mine, potential releases of mercury from the mine, existing sources of mercury in the region, contamination and consumption of fish, and potential human health concerns. This event was a collaboration between Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Center for Science in Public Participation, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.

I oppose the proposed Donlin Gold Mine (2020) by Representative Tiffany Zulkosky, published in the Delta Discovery

Mercury Contamination in Women and Children from the Arctic to Cook Islands: IPEN Raises Alarm and Requires Action – A presentation by Pamela Miller to the IPEN Women’s Caucus on mercury (2020)

Threats to our survival as a people (Op Ed by Gloria Simeon)

Alaska Leads the Nation in Toxic Releases for Good Reason: Large Mines Like Pebble are Toxic –by Bob Shavelson (2020)

Mercury in fishes in Alaska, with emphasis on subsistence species by Stephen Jewett & Larry Duffy (2007)

Total Mercury in Fish and Shellfish Caught in Alaskan Waters by staff at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of the State Veterinarian Fish Monitoring Program (2020)

Contaminants in Alaska’s Fish webpage on the State of Alaska’s Dept. of Environmental Health website –

Regional Analysis of Fish Consumption Rate Estimates for Rural Alaska Populations prepared by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Subsistence for the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Human Health Criteria Technical Workgroup (2019)

An NGO Introduction to Mercury Pollution –

CSP2 fact sheet on trace elements in mining waste ––Trace_Elements_in_Mining_Waste.pdf

Donlin Gold Mine summary by Alaska Community Action on Toxics –

Donlin Gold Project summary by Ground Truth Trekking –

Related CHE-Alaska events

Mercury in the North: Sources of Contamination and International Policies to Protect Health & Human Rights

Mercury Pollution in Alaska: Sources of Contamination, Health Effects, and Global Actions

Featured speakers

Gloria Simeon of Bethel is an ONC tribal member and on the Board of Directors for the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.  She has been heavily involved in the opposition of the Pebble and Donlin Gold Mine, leading many efforts to oppose and more thoroughly consider the consequences of mining in the YK Region, and was a delegate to the National Congress of American Indians in 2019.

Dr. Kendra Zamzow works for the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2). She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno and specializes in microbial interactions with trace metals, acid rock drainage and water quality. She assisted Chuathbaluk Traditional Council for several years during the development of the Donlin Environmental Impact Statement. She was also on the DEC working group to provide advice on updating water quality regulations to take into consideration the actual amounts of fish consumed by people in Alaska.

Dr. David Carpenter is director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at UAlbany’s School of Public Health where he specializes in the human health effects of environmental contaminants, including metals and organic compounds.

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