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The latest and most frightening pollution problem has to do with mercury. Last week Alabama banned fishing in 51,000 acres of water, including the Tennessee River, and Governor Albert Brewer asked President Nixon to declare portions of the state federal disaster areas, all because of mercury in the water. Federal officials admitted that waters in at least 13 other states are also contaminated. In New York, authorities warned people against eating fish from either Lake Champlain or the St. Lawrence River. Canadian provinces barred fishing in a number of lakes. Some public water supplies on both sides of the border may be in peril.
Highly poisonous to living creatures, mercury is a heavy metal that can persist in the environment for years. Between 1953 and 1960, 110 people died or were disabled in Japan after eating fish caught in Minamata Bay, into which a plastics plant had been discharging mercury. A very slight amount can cause headaches and numbness, and not very much more can bring about impairment of speech and vision or even severe emotional disturbances. The expression "mad as a hatter" stems from the 19th century when a high incidence of hat-makers became mentally ill because of their continual contact with mercury used in treating felt.
The mercury in our waters appears to come from three major sources: 1) farmlands on which seeds and trees have been treated with mercury to prevent fungus, 2) chemical and plastic plants, 3) paper mills, which use mercury to inhibit the growth of slime in the process waters. In a way, the most shocking fact about the current mess is that its existence was not discovered by an antipollution official but by a Norwegian graduate student at the University of Western Ontario. The student, Norvald Fimreite, found that pheasants and red-tailed hawks in Alberta were contaminated with mercury, so much so that the provincial government has banned hunting. Fimreite then found that fish taken from Lake St. Clair, between Michigan and Ontario near Detroit, were also mercury-laden. It turned out that a chemical plant had been discharging 200 pounds of mercury a day into the lake. Then, and not until then, did public officials wake to the problem.
It makes you wonder just who the hell is minding the environmental store.
IT WAS EASY
No matter who wins what this year, fans will be able to buy their heroes in action—or, at any rate, buy a record of the big moments of the season. Fleetwood Recording Co. of Revere, Mass. has made 14 such records, with Goal Bruins on top of the charts at the moment. That one, about Boston's Stanley Cup champions, seems likely to break the sales record of The Impossible Dream, a golden oldie about the Red Sox and their astonishing pennant victory in 1967.
Right now, Vincent Giarrusso of Fleetwood has his eye on baseball and has been collecting tapes on the Orioles, Tigers, Yankees and Twins in the American League and the Reds, Mets, Pirates, Cardinals and Cubs in the National. "We cover all possibilities," says partner Ray Semora. "We go through miles of radio and TV tape in our editing—games, crowd stuff, locker rooms, the whole thing. Then we narrow things down to one team. During the Stanley Cup playoffs we'd file away the tapes of each team that was eliminated until only the Bruins were left. Five days after Bobby Orr scored that winning goal we were moving records."
There have been some bombs, Semora admits. Fleetwood followed the Baltimore Colts through an entire season to produce Colt Stampede. The company was as astounded as the Colts were by the 1969 Super Bowl and had to scramble to come up with Super Jets.