“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 8% of women of childbearing age in the United States have mercury levels in their blood above what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.”
To finish this quote from a (2003?) Environmental Defense Fund report (see sources):
“In other words, millions of American women who could be pregnant are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury each year, putting more than 300,000 newborns at risk of brain damage and learning disabilities.”
The above is just one of the alarming statistics I uncovered after finding out 5 weeks ago that Stefan and I both have acute mercury poisoning, from an as-yet unidentified source.
After five weeks of feeling scared and displaced (we fled our house as one potential source), endlessly researching, battling with our landlady, talking to county and state health and toxicology heads and (in my case anyway) feeling very physically unwell…I finally have the energy to write about this; and it feels as important as anything I’ve ever written, though not a typical topic for Mobility Mastery.
On February 13th, Stefan and I went to a hot yoga class.
It was my idea (he had never been to one before), saying “I feel toxic and could use a serious sweat sesh.”
I was so nauseated that I spent 45 minutes of class in child’s pose wondering if I should run for the door.
I spent the next few days mildly nauseous until Wednesday morning when I woke up, drank coffee and vomited.
No longer could I ignore the warning signs my body was giving me.
This was a culmination of 7 months of seemingly mild health symptoms that I kept dismissing as stress, finally awful enough that I was going to do something about it.
Stefan and I moved into a new house in Longmont last summer, both in perfectly good health (to our knowledge). We were excited about this house because it had a yard (not something you find easily in Boulder, where we’d lived previously), and it was a HOUSE (not an apartment). We told the landlady we were looking for a long term home, and planned to have kids there.
We noticed something really strange, however, right away: every time we bought a bag of new coffee, by day 3 or 4 it started to smell and taste extremely metallic; so bad in fact we would throw it away and buy a new bag.
I immediately suspected lead paint dust was somehow getting into the coffee (the idea is a little crazy maybe, but…). The house was built in 1922.
We bought an EPA approved lead testing kit.
That initial test, which we did within a few weeks of moving in, was “negative;” so we let it go, even though the metallic taste persisted no matter what brand of coffee we bought (always ok the first few days, then BAM! It just tasted wrong).
Throwing up got my attention. I hate throwing up. I will avoid and avoid it and try hard not to give in, even though I know I’ll feel better after. I was avoiding it for days, but my body won.
For months leading up to that morning, I kept telling Stefan:
“Something doesn’t feel right. I don’t feel right.”
Since moving into that house I hadn’t slept well.
The digestive problems I thought I’d solved years ago were back. Anxiety gripped my chest every day. I was increasingly tired. I felt de-motivated. I was gaining weight despite working out 4-6 times a week. My periods were coming 8 days early every couple of months (after a lifetime of regularity). I also got what I thought was food poisoning, twice. Most of these I attributed to the stress of trying to turn Mobility Mastery into a business that could support Stefan and I to have kids within a year. He had quit his job to help me, so…it was make or break time.
Then…my right eye started twitching 24/7, followed by a strange violent hiccup that would happen just once (not like having the hiccups). This turned into a hiccup-burp (which was kind of funny at first), that went from once a day to 20-30x/day (not funny).
In January I noticed my stomach was becoming distended. I almost looked pregnant (I wasn’t). It hurt, too.
Lying there on our couch that day after throwing up, my eye twitching relentlessly, hiccup-burping, stomach distended and painful…I knew I was being poisoned.
I looked up the symptoms of lead poisoning and they were pretty much everything I was experiencing. I asked Stefan to test the house paint again.
Turns out he hadn’t tested correctly the first time; there was indeed lead paint everywhere.
I was convinced I was experiencing lead poisoning.
I didn’t want to go to a doctor. I didn’t want to be diagnosed with IBS, anxiety disorder, a sleep disorder etc and be put on medication. I just wanted to know what my lead levels were. So I found an accredited certified lab that would test for me, without needing a physician’s orders.
I have no idea why, when I stood at the lab counter after my blood was drawn, I said “Sure, I’ll pay $250 instead of $130 to do the 5-panel heavy metals test instead of just lead…ya never know.”
I am so glad I did.
We had to wait a week for the results.
When they finally came in we were SHOCKED.
My lead levels were below average.
My MERCURY levels were off the charts at 15ug/L.
That’s 15 micrograms per liter of blood.
I didn’t even know what that meant at first, until we found a bunch of CDC and EPA documents about mercury.
The average American has .86ug/L of mercury. This meant my levels were about 17 times higher than average.
What was instantly alarming to me was this:
I rarely eat fish and when I do, it’s wild caught salmon from Alaska.
I haven’t eaten tuna in 20 years.
I don’t have amalgam fillings in my mouth.
I’ve avoided using CFL lightbulbs due to them containing mercury (ironic, right?)
So how the hell could I have that much mercury in my blood?
Tony Robbins somewhat famously had mercury poisoning recently (from eating fish) that was so bad (rumor has it) he was a week or two away from a heart attack or aneurysm. His levels were reportedly 10 times the average for Americans. Mine were an additional 7 times higher…
We quickly learned these levels mean acute mercury poisoning with very serious health consequences.
Perhaps I wasn’t in my right mind, but I was convinced it had to be our house given the timeline, the weird coffee thing and my accumulating symptoms; so we grabbed a few changes of clothes, emailed our landlady and went to stay with a friend of mine.
We soon found out that anything over 5ug/L has to be reported to the government (by the testing lab). I wasn’t going to wait for them to do it. I immediately reported myself to the state toxicology lab of Colorado.
They peppered me with questions, clearly surprise by my call, and asked if Stefan also had high levels. He hadn’t had any symptoms like me, so we hadn’t tested him. We went ahead and got him tested too, assuming if it came back high like mine it had to be our house – and maybe the state would step in and do something about it.
Stefan’s levels came back a week later at 16ug/L.
WTF was going on!?
We reported his levels to the state too, becoming the first citizens in Colorado history to self-report their mercury levels and ask for an invesitgation.
It took a lot of pushing on our end to get the landlady, the state and county on the same page, but they did agree to come test the house for mercury vapor and the landlady consented.
What on earth could cause these high mercury levels in a house, you may be wondering?
A meth lab was the only obvious answer.
Now, it’s not like this house was dirty and in a “bad” part of town…but it is old, and anything could have happened there since 1922.
If you google “mercury poisoning” you will find, as we did, countless articles, peer reviewed studies, CDC and EPA docs and opinionated doctor’s blogs and videos, and every single one of them says that high levels of mercury in humans comes from either eating too much fish or having amalgam fillings. Well, that ain’t us.
The only other listed sources of exposure are things like breaking a CFL lightbulb and not cleaning it up properly, swallowing the mercury in an old thermometer, and some obscure sources like face whitening cream (I like my Italian skin tone thank you), fungicides, jewelry from Mexico or working in an industrial factory that uses mercury to produce its products (such as CFL lightbulbs).
Google “meth lab and mercury” and you’ll see why we decided this had to be the cause. Nothing else made sense.
Even the possibility of there being old latex paint in the house (mercury was used in latex paint as a fungicide until 1992, when it was banned) seemed very unlikely to be causing our high levels; we’d have to be eating paint chips off the wall!
Stefan and I have spent the past 5 weeks couch surfing, staying with friends, hotel and AirBnb hopping and researching like crazy. It’s been utterly exhausting, a little traumatizing if I’m being honest, and galvanizing.
I’m angry. I feel protective of our bodies and brains, and our ability to have healthy children; I feel protective of our children’s children and concerned about the kind of world they’ll be inheriting; and I feel heartbroken for this beautiful planet that we continue to destroy every day.
I am NOT going to quietly crawl into a hole, take some detox pills and shut up about this.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin.
There is no known safe level to have in our bodies. It crosses the blood-brain barrier very quickly, with potentially long lasting effects on the human nervous system and brain.
Mercury quickly attacks the myelin sheaths coating our nerves until they’re raw, disrupting normal neural pathways with rapid effects on the nervous system (almost all of my symptoms were nervous system related); in addition, mercury messes with our hormones, brain body coordination, memory and in some cases leads to dementia (ever heard of the “Mad Hatters?” They became “mad” or crazy due to inhaling mercury vapors while making felt hats).
In areas of the US and world of concern to the EPA (due to high pollution rates combined with high fish consumption), people have an average of 3ug/L of mercury in their blood. Anything over 5 is considered dangerous, and anything over 10 is considered acute mercury poisoning.
How on earth did we accumulate this much mercury if we don’t even eat fish or have amalgam fillings?
The state and county did come test the house for vapors only…and found nothing. This test ruled out high concentrations of elemental mercury in that house…but not other sources, like inorganic – when mercury binds with molecules like chlorine forming mercuric chloride, a white salt or particulate.
At this point (about 3 weeks into the whole affair), the state and county washed their hands of our case and told us we were probably eating something high in mercury and should consult one of the clinical toxicologists at a Denver hospital who could help us pinpoint the food source (we looked into this and it would require admitting ourselves to the ER, costing tens of thousands of dollars – no thanks); our landlady celebrated, and we…we were left dumbfounded and in shock.
We were sure they were going to find something in that house.
We had spent weeks researching mercury, and it was clear to us the state didn’t even understand or know everything we now did.
We felt totally alone.
Maybe we were alone in this, but we were in it together and both of us are extremely stubborn. We are not the kinds of people who defer our empowerment to authority figures like the government, or even doctors for that matter.
After getting our mental bearings, Stefan and I were unconvinced the vapor test ruled out the house definitively. Even though we didn’t own the house, and the landlady felt justified to re-rent it as is (we decided to move out regardless of that vapor test), we couldn’t let it lie.
My primary objective since getting my test results back and seeing that number – 15ug/L – staring back at me has been: find the source.
This is NOT a small amount of mercury to have in our blood. This is a high risk amount that indicates something massively wrong in the environment here (whether the home environment or our local environment, airborne or in a food source). It may take years before we can considering having children now, and I’m 37.
If you’ve read or watched my Mobility Mastery blogs or videos, then you know I’m obsessed with finding the source of pain before trying to “fix” it. I do not believe we can “cure” or heal anything unless we find the root source and deal with that first. Anything other than a full investigation to find the source would only manage symptoms or worse – mask them. That’s not how I roll.
For the sake of everyone and everything I love here in Boulder County Colorado, I hope it is the house.
We said screw it, and hired an industrial hygiene company.
We’re paying $1000 out of pocket to test a house we don’t even own, because we decided we had to rule it in or out; for our own sanity but also to know whether or not other people could be at risk too. We certainly wouldn’t want other people moving in and being exposed, if it is the house. And if it’s not the house it indicates a dangerous level of emissions around here.
Stefan, after all, had few symptoms while I had a lot.
You can accumulate mercury without even knowing it or showing symptoms. Besides, the symptoms are (in my opinion) more often than not going to get diagnosed as other more “common” ailments: IBS, anxiety disorder, sleep disorder, adrenal fatigue, mood disorders, depression and even panic attacks (to name just a few in a long list of symptoms).
How many people are being misdiagnosed in America (and worldwide), when an underlying cause could be chemical or metal toxicity? I wonder…
Because the truth is, we’re polluting this planet (and ourselves) every single day with neurotoxins like mercury that can kill us slowly, without us ever knowing what is making us sick.
Everyone knows that “pollution is bad.” But…
Maybe, like me, you’ve had no idea until now that a huge part of this pollution problem is mercury (read: a known NEUROTOXIN) being pumped into the atmosphere.
Across just a few industries worldwide (gold mining, coal power plants, cement plants etc), we measure mercury emissions in TONS; not pounds. METRIC TONS.
Could there be an emissions crisis here?
There is a coal power plant in Boulder.
There is a huge cement plant in Lyons, just a few miles away.
The hills around here were heavily mined for gold at one time (the highest mercury emissions on earth come from gold mines).
And in the past few years, fracking has skyrocketed.
In addition, there are crematoriums nearby (three in Longmont) and several industrial factories within half a mile to a mile of that house that reportedly emit some mercury (these are small scale), plus more in Boulder or nearby.
Down the rabbit hole we go…
If it is not the house, then our levels have to be due to something Stefan and I were both eating or breathing. And we eat what so many other people do around here: farmers market food when in season, a few of our favorite restaurants (most of them serve local foods), the occasional dirty taco shop and of course, we breathe the same air as everyone else here.
Could we be canaries in the coal mine for a larger environmental issue here in Boulder/Longmont Colorado?
Or is it the house?
We’ll know soon, and that test could determine our entire life path after this. We’ve talked about moving out of Colorado if it is not the house.
Then again, if it’s not the house we will feel somewhat obligated to dig a little deeper and find out what the fuck is going on in this part of Colorado; but we want kids. And we want to be healthy. And we can’t detox if we’re continually being exposed through the air we breathe, and the food we eat.
I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned the past five weeks.
Environmental sustainability and protecting this planet has always been important to me; it’s even more personal now, and this entire experience has added a new level and depth to my passion for health.
We will get healthy again.
My body is wise, competent and wants to be healthy; I have faith in her! After all, she tried to get my attention from the moment we moved to Longmont.
I’m committed to taking a health positive approach to all of this. Meaning, while it’s tempting to get really freaked out about the long term damages mercury can do, I am committed to turning my mind and imagination towards how incredible the human body is at healing from anything…including neurotoxins.
I am also grateful we discovered this before trying to get pregnant.
And, it may be a long haul. I’ve gained about 15lbs in 8 months and am currently having a hard time detoxing. My abdomen is bloated and distended and I can’t eat anything without horrific pain following. I can’t even begin the detox process until I heal my digestion, or I risk recirculating the mercury throughout my body, further damaging my cells and nervous system.
We’ve had to decide between finding new housing or paying for fairly expensive detox kits. We chose housing first.
Both Stefan and I have struggled immensely not having a home right now, especially while under so much stress; it’s put us in fight or flight, and we desperately crave the comforts of home.
Stefan is faring better in the detox department, still showing few if any symptoms. It’s likely he is moving the mercury out of this body, while my body seems to be storing it. We believe he was moving the mercury out of his body more effectively while we were being exposed too (he was doing cold showers daily, sauna several times a week and was taking a chelating supplement for heavy metals every day just to detox from daily toxins). I wasn’t doing any of that, and my body likely just started storing it while trying to get my attention that something was wrong.
After researching everything that we have recently, not just about mercury pollution and sources of exposure, but also about detoxing and how to heal from something like this, Stefan and I are committed to publicly sharing what we learn, what we decide to try, what works and what doesn’t.
We believe environmental toxicity is a global health crisis that not enough people are talking about.
While not everyone has high levels of mercury like us, most people have some levels of mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, formaldehyde, pesticides and a ton of household chemicals in their systems due to this modern industrial way of living we’ve created.
Chemical and metal toxicity affects all systems of the human body, including fascia (where toxins can get stored), the nervous system and those myelin sheaths which have everything to do with our neural pathways and healthy (or unhealthy) physical and psychologcal patterns.
Shouldn’t we be going to a doctor?
We did. It was a good reminder why I’ve avoided western medical doctors my entire life.
I know there are good doctors out there. I have to believe there are. However, I haven’t heard very many stories about these doctors. Where are the ones who spend time with their patients and let them take part in the diagnostic and healing process, the ones who acknowledge the patient’s own research into their given issue(s) and show compassion for what they’re going through?
We have a broken system. I think most of us are aware of that; so I don’t necessarily blame the doctors.
Still, I was astonished at the apparent lack of empathy for us, and his lack of concern for (not to mention knowledge about) this issue. I chose him specifically because he advertises mercury testing and detox and even his secretary knew more than other clinics we called.
He told us that a lot of people in this area have elevated mercury levels and never find out where it’s coming from. (Don’t they want to know?! Doesn’t he?! Ins’t this alarming?!)
My symptoms, according to this doctor, definitely indicate household toxicity, but in his opinion may or may not be from the mercury. Perhaps mold was causing my symptoms and I just so happened to find out I have high levels of mercury.
I get the logic…but my gut instincts disagree. My gut tells me everything I’m experiencing is due to the mercury.
Said the doc: “Maybe you two happen to be on an extreme end of the spectrum and bioaccumulate more mercury than most people; is it a coincidence that both of you are on that end of the spectrum and have similar levels? Sure, but it could happen. This is probably just a lifetime build-up of mercury from all sources.”
We paid this doctor $400 for an opinion based on misinformation because he doesn’t understand what we’ve discovered with just a little bit of research. I’m about to tell you the most important findings, so hang in there with me!
Additionally, we weren’t even offered support for how to detox, other than the suggestion of purchasing our own $350/mo per person detox kit from Quicksilver Scientific.
What I’m about to tell you is the primary reason I decided to write this post, because I believe more people need to understand this and get curious instead of go into fix-it mode.
How the human body deals with mercury:
The average half-life of elemental and inorganic mercury in human blood is 1-3 DAYS.
This means, if an exposure has stopped, about half of the total accumulated mercury will leave your blood within 3 days (to be either eliminated via sweat, urine or feces, or STORED in fat or organs, including the brain).
The full life of these forms of mercury in human blood is somewhere around 1-3 weeks; meaning if the exposure has stopped then all the mercury should be out of the blood within that timeframe; again, to be either eliminated or stored in fat or organs.
Methylmercury behaves a little differently than inorganic or elemental, with a half-life in human blood of anywhere from a few days to 60. I can’t find any sources online that state methylmercury could accumulate in humans in any significant amount from anything other than eating fish.
According to the CDC and EPA, blood tests are a poor measure of total mercury load in the human body, because they only measure recent acute exposures (like breaking a CFL lightbulb and not cleaning it up properly) or long term chronic exposure (like working in an industrial factory).
Yet, blood tests are still the predominant means of testing for mercury exposure and toxicity.
Please pay attention:
A blood test is only a good measure of blood levels (NOT total body load) and must be performed within 1-3 days of an acute or chronic exposure in order to be accurate.
Our BLOOD levels were 15 and 16ug/L, an impossible number for a lifetime buildup if mercury leaves the blood completely within 60 days at most.
When mercury bioaccumulates, it doesn’t bioaccumulate in blood; it is stored in fat or organs (especially the BRAIN).
For everyone who uses blood draws to test mercury levels, the “lifetime bioaccumulation” theory is an all-too-easy answer for anyone that doesn’t want to look into this issue. If you (or your doctor) are focused solely on making the symptoms disappear, this line of thinking makes sense. However, it is completely irresponsible if the goal is to find the source or cause, and create a healing program from there.
I wish more people (doctors and citizens alike) questioned their assumptions and what they’re being told and did even a little bit of research.
Maybe it’s because we know, somewhere deep inside, that if we did do the research we’d have to question what we’re being told by those in power, and perhaps…we’d decide we need to do something about it. And that’s just really inconvenient.
This goes for mercury pollution but also any pain, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
What this means for Stefan and I:
Mercury exists as elemental (like the kind in a thermometer), inorganic (when mercury binds to other molecules to form bonds with substances like chlorine or sulfur), or organic – Methylmercury, the kind found in fish.
The only consistent exposure to environmental mercury (if it is not our house) for Stefan and I would be from a coal power plant, a cement plant, fracking, crematoriums or a few other industrial sources.
If it is our house, then it would be in particulate (inorganic) form, likely from the basement being used as a meth lab at one point.
We get the house test results on March 27th.
I also opted to get a tri-test for myself, which takes urine, hair and blood samples to determine what kind of mercury it is, how much is being stored vs moving out of my body and approximately how long it has been accumulating in my body. I get those results in a week to ten days.
After we know whether or not it’s the house, we will decide if we are staying in Colorado vs going somewhere else. We want to find a new (safe) home.
The thing is, though – mercury emissions are everywhere. We can’t escape them.
Even if it turns out to be that house, this whole experience has us fired up about toxicity, along with safe and healthy ways to detox. What we’ve been reading about mercury emissions worldwide is extremely alarming to us, in addition to what we already knew about legal allowable chemicals in household cleaning products, pesticides, medicines, beauty products etc.
We’ll keep you all posted.
In the meantime, do share your own thoughts, best guesses as to the source and of course, if you know something we don’t or have done your own research into these issues – please share in the comments below!