• Mercury a problem for fish-eaters

    Seafood is more than just a love along Bayou Lafourche and throughout South Louisiana. For many, it is a means of survival, in terms of economic gain and nutritional sustenance.

    For that reason, as scientists continue to study the levels and effects of toxins such as mercury in local waters and aquatic animals, residents of the numerous water-bound towns of the state and other regular seafood eaters should pay attention.

    Mercury levels in humans came under increased scrutiny beginning in the 1950s when residents of the small fishing town of Minamata, Japan, started displaying inexplicable irregularities – numbness, vision problems, slurred speech and uncontrollable shouting and bodily twitches – all signs of neurological damage.

    The outbreak was later linked to mercury compounds dumped into area waters by a local factory and subsequently ingested by locals through their frequent consumption of fish.

    Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be found throughout the environment. It is pumped into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, and is carried back to earth by rain, sometimes far away from where the initial emission took place, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality reports.

    Mercury accumulates in sediments in waters where bacteria converts the element to its methyl form – that most readily absorbed by fish.

    Scientists have identified sediments in local waterways that contain mercury deposits at least 50 years old, said Barry Kohl, a Tulane-based geologist who is working with the state to combat the mercury problem.

    And it is likely that deposits date back even further.

    If mercury-laden sediments are left undisturbed for a period of time, new sediment deposits can cover the contaminated ones. One foot of clean sediment can prevent further contamination of fish, Kohl said. That is, until dredging is performed on that area or new sources of mercury are added to the environment.

    The concentration of mercury in the tissue of fish and other aquatic animals generally increases as small bottom feeders are eaten by larger and older predators, such as large mouth bass and King mackerel.

    Flathead catfish and bowfin are also among Louisiana fish that merit mercury warnings, Kohl said. Many local fish meet the 1 part per million mercury threshold used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to restrict interstate sales, he said.

    Accordingly, while nearly all fish contain trace amounts of mercury, larger fish typically are higher in mercury levels and …

  • Event should teach a lesson

    April 01. 2015 12:08PM

    Event should teach a lesson

    Wednesday was a gut-wrenching news day as we saw on television or read news stories about the shocking killings of four American contractors and five American soldiers as the bloodshed in Iraq continued.

    The four contractors were traveling in Fallujah when their two SUVs were ambushed by rebel forces.

    Their charred and mutilated bodies were pulled from the vehicles, further desecrated and dragged through the streets by a cheering horde.

    In the same area, a small bomb exploded under an armored personnel carrier, killing five U.S. soldiers.

    Together, the killings made Wednesday the deadliest for Americans in Iraq since Jan. 8, according to a report by The Associated Press.

    The bodies of two of the four contractors were eventually strung up and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates river. Elsewhere in town, body parts were tied to bricks and tossed over electrical wires.

    Summing up the shock of most Americans, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “It is offensive, it is despicable the way these individuals have been treated.”

    Although the actions the crowds took against the Americans were horrific, it was good to see President Bush’s resolve reflected in McClellan’s words. He said the best way to honor the men who died would be for the United States to move ahead with its mission of building a viable democracy in Iraq.

    The entire event also allows the American public to draw important distinctions between Bush and his predecessor.

    In the early days of the Clinton administration, as U.S. forces floundered in Somalia with no set focus or goal set by Washington, a helicopter full of troops crashed.

    In a similar scene to the one that happened Wednesday, the bodies of the American service people were dragged through the streets and mutilated.

    In the Somalia incident, the disaster and abuse of the bodies highlighted a flawed foreign policy that seemed to think about strategy only after troops had been sent into harm’s way.

    Wednesday’s incident, on the other hand, underlines the fact that there are still forces loyal to Saddam Hussein and devoted to mayhem and destroying Iraq’s chances at building a representative government.

    It is painful to watch our fellow Americans being treated as they were Wednesday. It is even more painful to see the ever-increasing list of those who have lost their lives in Iraq.

    But with a …

  • Dularge dolphin doing well in New Orleans aquarium

    NEW ORLEANS – When Seth Billiot spotted his old friend Dularge the dolphin safely swimming in a saltwater tank Tuesday afternoon, the mischievous 7-year-old itched to jump in with her.

    “I just want to touch her skin,” Seth said. Doubled over the pool’s edge, the dimple-faced boy stretched his body toward the dolphin’s white stomach, running his hands up and down her rubber-like body. He could not stop smiling.

    “She feels like a hardboiled egg,” said Seth.

    The Billiot family, a tight-knit clan who helped bring Dularge the dolphin to safety earlier this month after she got stranded in a canal away from her mother, paid a visit to the 9-month-old mammal Tuesday. Dularge is being kept at an off-site warehouse in New Orleans run by the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

    After petting the bottlenose dolphin, watching her nudge a herring around the pool and speaking at length with trainer Brandi Sima, the rescue-program coordinator for Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle, the Billiots were satisfied.

    “I’m just amazed, so pleased,” said mother Wendy Billiot, who was struck most by the change in Dularge’s appearance.

    When Billiot first encountered the calf at the end of February, Dularge was severely underweight and pocked with third-degree sunburns. Days away from death, the mammal also had a disease called “dolphin pox,” an infection caused by stress and the muddy bayou water that leaves patterned lesions on the skin.

    The dolphin’s health had suffered because of the mostly freshwater refuge she found in a manmade canal near the Bayou Dularge Flood Protection Levee, which runs along Brady Road.

    When the canal was built to connect the bayou to the Gulf of Mexico, it also sealed off baby Dularge from her nursing mother.

    But Sima thinks Dularge got her now-scabbed and healing sunburns from hoisting herself against the canal and communicating with her mother, who eventually gave up hope of reconnecting and swam away.

    A bottle-nose dolphin normally protects and remains with her calf for up to five years. Dularge was left without a mother at 8 months.

    “She will never be released into the wild,” Sima told the Billiot family.

    Seth and his older brother, 11-year-old Jeremiah, looked relieved.

    Sima explained that Dularge was separated from her mother before she could learn to live on her own. The helpless but affectionate calf cannot catch her own fish or defend herself. Plus, she has …