Mad hatters, seafood jubilees, & Pfiesteria Files: "Mad hatters" source of mercury mystery
by National Sea Grant College Program. Contact: Ben Sherman
Ever wonder where the term "mad as a hatter" came from? Mercury, once used extensively in the hat making process, caused a brain illness in many hatters. And though the hatmaking industry is gone from one town, mercury may still exist in the soil and river sediments that surround its old factories.
Danbury, Connecticut was known as the hat making capital of the world in the 19th century. During the industry boom of the 1880s, over five million hats a year were produced in 56 different factories. The production process involved using a mercury compound, mercury nitrate, to remove fur from its pelts and turn it into felt more easily. Abraham Lincoln's famous beaver stovepipe hats were made in this fashion.
Hat makers, exposed to large amounts of vaporized mercury, began to experience its effects on their own nervous systems. Doctors even recorded seeing "holes the size of quarters" inside some hatters' brains. The state of Connecticut outlawed the use of mercury in hat making in the early 1940s. But there are signs that mercury remains in soil and river sediment not far from where factories once stood.
Connecticut Sea Grant researcher Johan Varekamp and his team, who had been studying the distribution of mercury contamination throughout Long Island Sound, discovered high levels of mercury in a marsh within the mouth of the Housatonic River. Varekamp worked his way up the river in order to find the mercury's source. He found extremely high levels in the Still River, a tributary of the Housatonic that flows through Danbury. He and his team have tested fields, rivers and soils inside the town, and have found mercury levels many times higher than natural levels. Now, the team is testing further sights to find out how far the contamination has reached. The Still and Housatonic Rivers are both prone to flooding, and Varekamp worries that a future hurricane or storm may flush more mercury into Long Island Sound, threatening its fisheries, and once again imperiling human health through seafood contamination.
CONTACT: Johan Varekamp, Professor in Geology, Chair, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, (O) 860-685-2248, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seafood "jubilee" means easy fishing in Mobile bay:
The term "jubilee" means celebration, and for seafood lovers along the Gulf Coast there is indeed cause for celebration. Every summer, residents of Mobile Bay, Alabama are the beneficiaries of a seafood "jubilee." Certain conditions bring crabs, flounder and other bottom-dwelling creatures to the water's surface in a phenomenon called a "jubilee." The result is an abundance of seafood that is easy to catch and enjoy.
"Jubilees" may occur in other areas, but have been recorded almost yearly since the 1860s in Mobile Bay. They usually take place on an early summer morning after a cloudy day that includes a slight east wind, a calm bay surface and a rising tide. Additionally, conditions must include low levels of oxygen in the water, warm temperatures and stratification, in which freshwater floats on top of denser saltwater. When this occurs, the gentle east wind pushes the low-oxygen water shoreward, and sea creatures must stay ahead of it or swim over the top in order to breathe.
As a result, bottom-dwellers are pushed to the shore as the low-oxygen water moves toward them. Flounder, stingrays, eels, blue crab, shrimp and smaller fish are trapped at the shoreline. The lack of oxygen causes them to behave strangely as they move slowly and struggle for air, and it gives residents a chance to capture some of the victims. As many as several thousand pounds of fish and shellfish may be harvested at one time. By sunrise, the "jubilee" conditions subside and the affected fish swim back to the bottom of the bay.
CONTACT: Rick Wallace, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Marine Extension Specialist, (O) 251-438-5690, Email: email@example.com
Ease cross-border travel with tips from New York Sea Grant:
Planning a trip between New York and Canada this year? Over 20 million vehicles and boats will cross the border, and many of them will travel on New York's scenic Seaway Trail. In light of increased security at international borders following last September's terrorist attacks, New York Sea Grant and Seaway Trail teamed up to produce a free 2002 Cross Border Travel Tips brochure. The brochure will encourage recreational boaters, RV owners, camping enthusiasts and traveling motorists to visit the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River shorelines and will ease their trip across borders.
The Seaway Trail, one of "America's Byways," runs 504 miles along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Lake Erie. For smooth travel along the Seaway Trail and other area routes, the Travel Tips brochure offers the following advice:
Carry two forms of proper identification. This includes a passport, birth certificate, proof of citizenship, proof of naturalization, driver's license, or letter of permission if children are not traveling with a parent.
Follow the U.S. Custom's "Know Before You Go" brochure, available at www.customs.gov/travel/travel.htm
Be flexible. Regulations governing cross-border travel are subject to change without notice.
For a New York State Marina's Guide, visit New York Sea Grant's website at http://www.nyseagrant.org/
Call for a free Journey travel magazine from Seaway Trail, Inc. at 1-800-SEAWAY-T.
The brochure also offers information on frequent boater permits, day traveling on U.S. or Canadian waters, and traveling by RV. It is available on-line only, due to possible revisions, at http://www.seawaytrail.com/
CONTACT: Dave White, New York Sea Grant, (O) 315-312-3042, Email: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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