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What the FRACK? Mercury poisoning and industrial pollution.

By April 11, 2018Toxicity

I’m standing on beloved ground, taking a walk like any other day with Stefan by my side, when a mighty force erupts from below and the earth splits into a yawning chasm just behind our feet.

Instinct tells us to run so we’re not swept into the depths, and we scramble for our lives.

Once we get to safety and catch our breath, we’re left in shock as we look back at what was once home, so close we can almost touch it but impossible to reach now.

We’ve been staring across an impassable canyon for almost 2 months now, trying hard to figure out what happened, why the crack formed, looking for narrow spots, a place to jump across or any evidence at all that we aren’t the only ones on this side of that gaping crack.

Sometimes we walk for days trying to find a way back over, but the crack seems to go on forever and no one is coming to look for us.

We’re beginning to realize that we can’t stay here, just the two of us on the edge of this great divide longing for a life that doesn’t exist any longer.

Life now lies in the other direction, somewhere out there in the great unknown.

I’m standing on beloved ground…


Hunting for the truth.

Snow has been falling outside all morning.

The dogs we’re taking care of in exchange for a place to live temporarily are snoring, curled up tight on their beds as they have been all day.

A picture is starting to form of what life will be like for us after this mercury poisoning madness. We’re not quite ready to turn around and walk into the great unknown, but we’re gathering our courage.

Life seems to be asking us to put one foot in front of the other in the opposite direction of all our previous plans.

Mercury poisoning, the facts so far:

For the full first blog post about our mercury poisoning, click here.

In summary:

  • Stefan and I both had blood mercury levels of 16ug/L and 15ug/L respectively as of February and March 2018.
  • Anything over 5ug/L is considered dangerous and has to be reported to the government; over 10ug/L is considered acute mercury poisoning by the CDC.
  • Reported levels like this are usually seen in cases of certain industrial factory workers who are exposed to mercury in the manufacturing of certain products (like CFL lightbulbs), and extremely rare even for people who have silver amalgam fillings and/or eat fish.
  • We do not eat fish or have amalgam fillings.
  • Suspecting our home to be the only obvious source given the data (and hoping it wasn’t a bigger issue), we fled with just a few changes of clothes on February 21.
  • The state and county came to test the house for mercury vapors in March and detected nothing.
  • Even though we didn’t own the home and decided to give our 30 days notice regardless of outcome, we wanted the house tested more thoroughly to rule it in or out for good.
  • We hired an industrial hygiene company to test the house for vapor and particulate, and they did not find anything.
  • Objectively, the truth is all we know is that the test itself was negative. Could the house be the source despite the test result? Yes. Unlikely, but yes.
  • In early March I decided to get something called a tri-test, that uses blood, hair and urine and can differentiate between forms of mercury. We waited weeks for that test result…

When we received the results for that test this week we were left with even more questions.

The truth about Quicksilver Scientific mercury testing:

My Quicksilver Scientific tri-test results showed total mercury levels to be .351ug/L, combining methylmercury levels and almost undetectable inorganic mercury levels to get that number.

Maybe most people would be relieved to see that low low number. Not me. It didn’t add up. Something wasn’t right about this.

Hours of research and one aggressive phone inquiry later, and…

I cannot recommend Quicksilver Scientific, famous for its mercury testing and detox supplements.

While I do believe this test can be useful for people who already know they have high mercury levels from eating fish or having amalgam fillings, it is useless to determine total mercury load from ALL sources of mercury exposure.

Quicksilver writes in their test result report that they do mercury speciation testing for methylmercury (the kind found in fish) and 3 kinds of inorganic mercury with the chemical signature of Hg2, commonly found in human blood or urine from dental amalgam fillings.

There was nothing in that report about elemental or metallic mercury, and I wondered if they test for all kinds of inorganic mercury.

Why did they specify those 3 kinds and link them in writing to dental amalgams?

When I called Quicksilver (the testing department) to find out exactly what kinds of mercury they do and do not test for the immediate response was “We test for all forms of mercury, so the total in your tri-test result is the combined sum of the two kinds of mercury – inorganic and methylmercury.”

“What about elemental mercury?” I asked.

I was put on hold while the admin spoke to the lab technicians before he came back to tell me that elemental mercury is the same thing as inorganic mercury.

“That’s not true” I said. “Elemental mercury is the natural form of mercury and has a different chemical signature than inorganic, which is formed when mercury binds with other substances like chlorine or sulfur; hence the name inorganic.”

“Ok, let me google this while you’re on the phone with me,” he said.

One minute later: “Oh. You’re right. I guess we do not test for elemental mercury.” Long pause. “Umm, well, most people who order our test know they’ve been exposed to mercury through fish or dental amalgams and they’re happy with our testing methods.”

After some additional research we realized that they also DO NOT test for an entire subcategory of inorganic mercury compounds with the chemical signature of Hg1.

A company that specializes in mercury testing and detox that doesn’t even know what it is and isn’t testing for?

Yep.

Maybe I expect too much of people.

In addition to feeling duped by Quicksilver’s online marketing into thinking I was getting the most comprehensive mercury test in existence, I found it extremely frustrating that the functional medicine doctor we saw (with a total bill of about $700 for seeing him and getting this test) would even order this test for me, after I told him I don’t eat fish or have amalgam fillings. Then again, I can’t really blame him because even the testing company seems to believe they test for all kinds of mercury.

However, let me state for the record that I am left with ZERO confidence that there are many doctors who even understand mercury and how to accurately test for it and interpret the results.

NOT from food?

Though frustrating, the Quicksilver test results weren’t fruitless.

We now feel confident to rule out FOOD as a possible source of our mercury poisoning, due to my extremely low levels of methylmercury specifically.

Methylmercury has the longest half life in human blood, taking an average of 50 days to move out of blood and either get eliminated or stored in fat after ingestion. Click here to see a CDC study about this. It seems practically impossible that my levels would go from 15ug/L to .351 within three weeks (my blood was drawn for the tri-test about three weeks after the first test).

This means the kind of mercury we were exposed to likely had to be environmental, either in the form of elemental mercury vapor, or one of the inorganic forms.

Since we also know the source probably wasn’t the HOUSE, this leaves us with only two likely avenues of exposure: outdoor AIR or Longmont City WATER.

Some of you may be wondering “couldn’t we have been exposed to it somewhere in one freak accident?” (Like staying in a hotel where a CFL lightbulb was broken, for example).

From our research it doesn’t seem possible to have the high levels we did from a one-time exposure unless you actually swallowed the mercury in a thermometer for example. Even if it were possible, elemental mercury (the kind you’d breathe in from a broken CFL) has a rapid half life in human blood with 80% moving out of the blood within 1-3 days of exposure.

Since Stefan had his blood drawn 10 days after I did, and our levels were equally high at 15 and 16ug/L, it seems like a scientific impossibility.

Besides, I was showing symptoms for months dating all the way back to summer 2017.

All of these clues point to industrial pollution in air or water that we were exposed to on a chronic basis being the source of our mercury poisoning.

What the heck could it be from?

Fracking wastewater.
Fracking emissions.
Coal ash waste (from coal power plants) deposits, which are very high in mercury.
Coal power plant emissions.
Cement plant emissions.
Crematorium emissions (there are two in Longmont).
Other industrial emissions or illegal dumping into the air or water table.
Contaminated watersheds from gold mining, the cement plant in Lyons or any of the above.

See this, this and this for starters.

An environmental crisis in Boulder County, Colorado, or…are we crazy?

We’re definitely not your average humans:

We fled our home suspecting it of mercury contamination. Who does that?

Who even suspects lead or mercury poisoning to begin with and gets that blood test? I had to follow my gut, and my gut told me I was being poisoned by one of two metals – lead or mercury – and I was.

We’ve prioritized finding the source above “fixing” ourselves (aka detoxing), above having a home, above everything else logical, comfortable, dare I say “normal.”

We’ve refused to accept the logic of nearly every authority we’ve spoken to in the last 2 months, including government heads, toxicologists, doctors and respected companies because no answer offered has felt “right” to us. 

With each new inquiry we learn that, while not an exact science, our gut instincts are wise and worth listening to above all other guidance because the data we find keeps backing us up.

True north is inside.

For instance, the state toxicologist, after coming to test the house with their industrial hygienist, told us we were probably eating something contaminated (maybe she thought I believed “Chicken of the Sea” was really chicken?!) We believed this to be almost impossible given what we had been reading about mercury, and even before we got the tri-test results I told Stefan I didn’t think my levels would be from methylmercury. My symptoms most closely matched those listed for exposure to elemental mercury.

From the moment I got that initial blood test back and stared at that number – Mercury: 15ug/L – I have felt like there’s a fire on my doorstep and if I want to live I need to run, climb something with perspective and figure out what to do by looking down and seeing the bigger picture.

Getting the bigger picture (for me) starts with research, with trying to understand as fully as possible what I’m up against or what I’m dealing with.

After spending weeks poring over CDC, EPA, NIH and .gov articles, reports, guides and research papers I hoped and prayed it was the house…because my gut told me if it wasn’t the house then we’d have to leave this area, that it would not be safe to stay here because of the high likelihood that a much bigger crisis is lurking under the surface of this seemingly healthy corner of the world.

Is there an unknown environmental crisis in Longmont specifically, or the broader area of Boulder County?

Or is this a message from the universe meant only for Stefan and I? Are we being punished, or are we being pulled to safety by some unknown force trying to get us out before it’s too late?

I like to question every assumption I have and “try on” every possibility, even the wacky ones.

While I believe in a spiritual world and messages from the universe, the scientist part of me can’t reconcile the facts and make this only about us.

How likely do you think it is that this is limited to just Stefan and I, given the science and facts I’ve presented in this and my first blog post?

Feeling alone, the world at our feet.

Once we had confirmation it wasn’t the house, I started feeling increasingly alarmed that this is a wider issue affecting a lot of people around here. I wanted to raise the alarm, or at least raise awareness.

Since this whole thing started, the #1 most common response we’ve received has been “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I hope you can detox it out?”

While I appreciate everyone’s concern for me, lately my response has been “Thank you, and please know I’m concerned for you too and if I were you I’d go get my blood tested.”

This hasn’t been met with a warm reception, even by my best friends here.

Instead, most people I talk to are quick to assume and defend their assumption that it has to be just Stefan and I, insisting that this couldn’t possibly be a bigger issue or we’d all know about it, because the whole town would be sick or the government would be telling us about it.

Fuck.

Since when has the government ever volunteered to tell us there is a crisis, if there’s a chance to cover it up quietly and not cause widespread panic and pandemonium? Usually they wait until they have no choice and then it’s all about PR capmaigns and damage control. (Think: Vietnam War, Manhattan Project, the financial crisis, Fukushima…)

If we wanted to look for clues that this is a bigger issue affecting a lot of people, what would we look for?

Consider the following symptoms of mercury exposure or poisoning:

  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • mood disorders
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • digestive issues
  • lack of motivation
  • cognitive decline
  • muscle twitching
  • poor memory…
  • to name just a few that are the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re the type of person inclined to look at health and illness alike as progressive and compounding, everything connected to everything else, then it’s likely one or several of the above known symptoms could also lead to or have a correlation with more serious autoimmune or other disorders like MS and Alzheimers, nervous system disorders, and more extreme mood and psychiatric illnesses, to name a few.

Though I realize there isn’t an automatic correlation and these health issues seem ubiquitous in the modern age, I find it extremely concerning.

I can’t help wondering how many of these “common” problems could be traced back to industrial toxicity generally, and perhaps mercury specifically in many cases? Maybe I’m grasping here, but something tells me I am not.

I also can’t help wondering how many people who DO get tested for blood mercury levels assume (if their levels come back moderate to high) that it’s from the fish they eat, or their silver fillings, when the truth might be more complicated and their levels partly or even largely due to industrial pollution?

As far as I know (and I have tried unsucessfully to find answers to this online), there has never been a study done that seeks to differentiate between commonly accepted methods of mercury poisoning (always stated as eating fish or dental fillings) and the possibility that industrial pollution could be a significant cause.

The rare people who are testing themselves for mercury are already biased because most are doing it knowing they’ve been exposed – through fish or fillings, as the Quicksilver tech pointed out to me – and they simply want to know how bad it is. But what if their levels aren’t solely from those two things? How would they even know?

What if the entire town IS sick?

Again, I can’t think of a single person I know who doesn’t have at least one (and in most cases several) of those symptoms I mentioned above.

I know, I know…there are many causes of anxiety and digestive issues. But these are the symptoms we’d have to look for to identify a bigger issue; and they are observable, noted, and widespread.

Unfortunately…no one else we know has (yet) volunteered to have their blood tested for mercury levels. (Edited after publication: one friend of mine did the blood test, just for me. Results are pending).

I’ve had some candid hard conversations with friends and they know the impact this is having on me. I feel their love, care and concern for me, and…they tell me they don’t have the bandwidth to worry about this for themselves and their family, or they don’t see the point in testing even if their levels come back high because they’re already living a “detox” lifestyle and this is home, so they wouldn’t just leave. Or, they’re weary of activism and fighting the system and they just want to focus on the “positives.”

All of this has me feeling quite alone and even more alarmed and sad.

I feel sad because I believe this is why the world doesn’t change.

I believe the world could change rapidly if enough people took action together. Getting a blood test – especially if hundreds of people showed high levels – is a very different form of activism than marching and petition signing. The state actually listened when it was just the two of us; they got involved briefly. If more people turned up around here with high levels of mercury in their blood I believe the state would take action in a bigger way.

Sadly, most of us are too consumed with surviving and finding ways to make enough money to put a roof over our heads and buy the food or pills or hope that will lessen the anxiety of having to worry so much about survival.

Absolutely nothing is worth forsaking my health, and mercury is not something you want to mess with at high levels like this. If I had been pregnant at the time of my first blood draw, the likelihood of us having a brain damaged child would have been very high. Personally, I do not find that fact something to shrug at and say “oh well, we live in a toxic world, what are we supposed to do about it?”

I’d rather live in the woods. In fact, we plan to for a while.

We’re being liberated of everything we had planned: a home, a wedding, babies…

Not that we’re giving up on those things. We still want to make a home somewhere and have children, but not here and not this year (we can’t, until I lose the extra 15-20lbs of mercury laden fat I’ve packed on, and my total mercury blood levels get well below 3ug/L).

I got another blood test from the first company last week, to see how much (or if) my total levels have gone down. This company, Any Lab Test Now! (who uses a lab called ExperTox), is certified and accredited and while they don’t differentiate between types of mercury when testing blood, they do test for every single kind of mercury and give you a sum total.

I know my actions seem a little crazy.

I also know the science behind what I’m reading, behind our blood and other tests, behind the data…and that my concern isn’t based on some conspiracy theory but hard facts gathered diligently in the search for truth.

From this vantage point I’ve reached, the world below looks crazy.

I’ve stayed in integrity with myself this whole time, I’ve listened to my gut and I’ve done what feels right. While not easy to swallow, the truth is setting us free.

I can’t live somewhere I don’t feel safe.

I won’t stay in a place I love in order to fight something like this by myself, if in fact there is something fishy going on around here.

And so…I feel pulled into the wider world, to find a new home somewhere else and worthier projects to put my energy into.

Ironically, paradoxically or perfectly…mercury is known for its volatility, versatility, it’s ability to move fast and shapeshift, adapt to new environments and bond with other entities. If you look up the spiritual properties of this metal, or its associated planet, it’s all about travel, communication, fleet-footedness, decisive action and the ability to make changes quickly.

For the record: I likely would have been compelled to stay here if enough people had rallied to produce evidence pointing to something criminal going on here. And I do believe something criminal is or was going on. Whether it was a one time accident that polluted a watershed temporarily or just a certain area of Longmont air from a few select polluters, or is an ongoing issue pointing to Longmont or Boulder being a “hot spot” due to all the industries here that are currently allowed to emit or dump massive quantities of mercury waste into air, ground or water…I have no idea.

When life gives you mercury poisoning, put your shit in storage and get back to nature.

Stefan and I put our belongings into a storage unit. We plan to go through all of it and sell everything that isn’t irreplaceable (like my childhood art and journals).

We’re detaching ourselves from every “thing” here, including the life we thought we were living into: the business, the house, a community here and trying to get pregnant this year.

We have a temporary home until April 23rd. We plan to begin a summer-long camping adventure in May, starting in Utah or Arizona where the weather is a bit warmer, and then make our way through the wilds of Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming.

I believe detoxing doesn’t have to be expensive or involve lots of pills.

My detox plan:

Nature.
Hiking.
Nature.
Hiking.
Nature.

I want to immerse myself in nature, feel awed by beauty, go into the wild where there are few people, sweat my ass off hiking at elevation, soak in hot springs and take cold plunges into glacier lakes.

Some beneficial ‘detox’ side effects of all this hiking and climbing mountains at elevation (whenever possible) will be: breathing deeply and oxygenating my red blood cells, losing fat (and hopefully those mercury deposits), stimulating my lymph system which helps detox naturally, lowering my daily stress levels, balancing my own hormones and turning “on” certain detox genes the way nature intended.

I haven’t really tried to detox (by taking pills or chelating) since this started.

I’ve taken a few various supplements that felt right to me, and stopped some that didn’t feel right.

The best thing I’ve done in the last two months that I believe helped me start eliminating the mercury: a Vitamin C flush. I used C-Salts brand of vitamin C powder. The evening of and for days after this flush I guzzled cups of Nancy’s brand Kefir, which has 56 billion count of live probiotics in one cup (I’d often have 1.5-2 cups at a time). I did this to replenish my gut bacteria with a living food (intentionally not a pill) after the flush in order to create a healthy gut environment for eliminating toxins.

Supplements I’m currently taking:

  • Vitamin C in the form of calcium ascorbate (I don’t take ascorbic acid)
  • Magnesium
  • Probiotics
  • Activated charcoal and a small amount of bentonite clay
  • and I’m using FOOD AS MEDICINE, eating as many sulfur containing foods as I can: broccoli, tomatoes, cheese, eggs etc. (Sulfur binds with mercury).

Here’s to adventure, freedom and health!

Stefan and I both hope to meet you on the road, at a Kinetix event, or on the trail perhaps.

Stay tuned for more as we embark on the adventure of a lifetime, leading to our new life…starting in May of this year.

Where do you think we’ll end up?

We’d like to visit Australia and New Zealand to teach and possibly to live. Give us a shout if that’s your home and let us know if you’d like us to come visit or maybe even stay for good!

XOXO

Elisha

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