California’s Toxic Mercury Legacy
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California’s Toxic Mercury Legacy

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John Ahni Schertow
April 19, 2008
 
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Some say California is where the American Dream was defined; That an accidental discovery near some unknown river ushered in a new kind of lifestyle said to be entrepreneurial, wide-open, free.

It wasn’t long before the rumours started, back in 1849, that someone found themselves some gold – or when they were confirmed by President James K. Polk in his state of the union address later that year.

In a blink of an eye, the California Gold Rush began…

At first it was like you see in the movies, you know, where you kneel by a riverside and pan for gold… but it wasn’t long before a new process was adopted. It seemed harmless enough and it got the job done, so it couldn’t have been all that bad. that was the going theory, at least. And sure, it felt and tasted kinda funny but the kids had a great time with it.

“What’s this stuff called again?”

“Mercury, Cletus. They calls it mercury.”

When all was said and done, more than 26,000,000 pounds of the neurotoxic substance known as mercury had been used to extract the gold ore living in some 12 billion tons of Earth in California.

Today most of that gold is, well, packed away safely from desperate hands. But the mercury is still there, in the rivers and fish, in the trees and soil, and in the brains of unborn children. It’s a legacy that speaks to what can only be called the American Reality: something that’s all too often ignored.

Produced by the California Indian Environmental Alliance and the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Development, this 12 minute video discusses the ongoing toxic legacy of mercury contamination, it’s impact on Indigenous communities in California, and the ongoing effort to clean it up and restore tradition.

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