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DEC scientist says Ravena home to increased mercury levels

Department of Ecological Conservation Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone announced Monday, Sept. 28, that his independent studies of the Ravena area have found mercury levels up to eight times above the norm on and in vegetation and wildlife.

Stone suspects that the nearby Lafarge cement plant is largely responsible for increased levels of mercury, as well as other heavy metals like lead, barium, vanadium and cadmium that his tests also found.

We found a wide range of elements that are elevated, Stone said. He noted that in many cases other factors could be to blame (like disintegrating paint causing higher lead levels), "but a lot of these things can be pinned to the long operation of the cement plant."

Stone's work"which will continue"was conducted with assistance from the Community Advocates for Safe Emissions group. CASE Co-founder Elyse Kunz said the group has raised $3,000 for Stone's testing, but that he donated his time spent collecting samples and analyzing data.

Starting in April, Stone began collecting samples in the area to be tested for heavy metal levels. He said that he's ran about 80 tests so far, 20 on animals, with all of them returning higher than normal levels of mercury.

In some instances, Stone said he found 400 mercury parts per billion, or eight times the base level he observed in other areas like Five Rivers in Delmar. The tests are inexpensive, but in light of the new results Stone and CASE are calling for more intensive and costly testing, including an independent look at rates of certain diseases in the area.

"We've been asking the Health Department, and we haven't really gotten any clear statistics out of them," Kunz said.

While the Ravena area is at risk, according to Stone, areas to the east and southeast, including Rensselaer and Columbia counties and the Berkshires, will also have had pollution from the plant swept on to them. Stone noted that many lakes and ponds in these areas are on the fish consumption warning list because of increased mercury levels.

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