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Pitkin County monitoring for possible mercury exposure

Health officials are investigating after 75 out of 118 people tested between 2018 and 2022 had mercury levels above the state's threshold for an investigation.
Credit: 9NEWS

PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. — Pitkin County Public Health (PCPH) said it is beginning efforts to monitor for possible mercury exposure.

On May 4, PCPH said it was notified that 75 out of 118 people tested between 2018 and 2022 had mercury levels higher than 5 micrograms per liter by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). That is CDPHE's threshold for an investigation.

PCPH said it will begin contacting individuals including the impacted group as a form of surveillance.

The PCPH Disease Investigation Team is also conducting an investigation to identify if there are potential sources of exposure in the county, and the burden levels in the community.

CDPHE is coordinating with local public health agencies to follow up with individuals who tested above the 5 microgram per liter threshold, while noting that Colorado's threshold for investigation is lower than other states.

"Colorado’s lower threshold level may indicate there is no significance to these results but it’s the job of Public Health to ensure there is no significance," PCPH said.

Mercury is a naturally occurring, toxic metal that becomes liquid at room temperature. Exposure can happen through both natural and manmade sources such as contaminated fish, or broken household items like broken fluorescent light bulbs or damaged thermometers.

The health concern is due to the body's inability to break down mercury, causing it to build up in bodily tissue over time. Mercury buildup can cause damage to the central nervous system and kidneys.

Anyone concerned about possible mercury exposure is advised to contact their doctor.

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