3
Nov
2004

Mercury contamination widespread in Ohio’s lakes & rivers

Journal
September-October 2004

Mercury contamination widespread in Ohio’s lakes & rivers

by Ohio PIRG

September 21, 2004

Every fish sample from 70 different lakes and rivers tainted with dangerous toxin

Toxic levels in fish often exceed “safe” limit for women of childbearing age

Every lake, river and stream in Ohio is likely contaminated with dangerous mercury pollution, tainting popular fish species that people commonly catch and eat.

That is the finding of a new report based on recent federal and state Environmental Protection Agency tests of more than 1,000 fish caught in 70 different lakes, rivers and ponds across the state.

The test data is included in Reel Danger, a report authored by the Public Interest Research Group and released in Columbus by Ohio PIRG, the Darby Creek Association and the Ohio Environmental Council.

According to EPA test data:

Every fish sample tested from Ohio and throughout the nation was contaminated with mercury. Several of Ohio’s most popular sport fish contained mercury levels that exceed the USEPA’s “safe” limit for women of childbearing age, including 48% of the walleye, 49% of the smallmouth bass, 50% of the Northern pike, and 64% of the largemouth bass tested. Predator fish at the top of the food chain, including smallmouth bass, walleye, largemouth bass, lake trout, and Northern pike, had the highest average mercury concentrations.

The report is based on the first available data from the EPA’s ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue and on recent state EPA fish tissue studies. The Ohio test results mirror those of much of the nation.

“Mercury pollution is contaminating the fish that Ohioans love to catch and eat,” stated Sarah McKinney, Environmental Associate for Ohio PIRG. “Unfortunately for Ohio’s families, serving up fish contaminated with high levels of mercury can negatively impact the way young children learn, think and even grow – in some cases causing permanent brain damage.”

Earlier this year, EPA scientists estimated that one in six women of childbearing age in the U.S. has enough mercury in her blood to put her child at risk of mercury poisoning. Eating contaminated fish is the primary way people are exposed to mercury. Mercury is toxic to the developing brain, and exposure in the womb can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays and other serious health problems in children. The USEPA estimates that 630,000 of the four million babies born each year in the U.S. are at risk.

The Ohio Department of Health has issued a statewide fish consumption advisory for mercury, urging all persons to eat no more than one meal a week of fish caught from any water body in the state. Some waterways have even more restrictive advisories.

John Tetzloff, president of the Darby Creek Association, is upset that even relatively remote and pristine streams such as the Darby which is a state and national scenic river in west-central Ohio – are contaminated with mercury. “Individuals and local jurisdictions have worked hard to protect the Darby from pollution from familiar sources,” he said. “Now we find out that the Darby is being polluted through the air. It’s very discouraging.”

The report calls for prompt action to clean up the top source of mercury emissions: coal-fired power plants. According to the USEPA, fossil-fueled power plants account for 41% of total mercury emissions in the U.S. When coal is burned, it releases mercury into the air. Bacteria in the soil and water convert mercury to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that accumulates in fish. As larger fish eat smaller fish, the toxin accumulates.

Ohio ranks 2nd in the nation (Texas ranks 1st) for mercury emissions from power plants, releasing a reported 7,358 pounds of mercury into the air in 2002, according to the most recent EPA data. In fact, five of Ohio’s 24 coal-burning power plants landed in the top 40 for mercury emissions out of 500 plants nationwide. These plants include:

¨ AEP Conesville Plant, Conesville, OH – ranked #3 in the nation, 1,300 pounds

¨ J.M. Stuart Station, Manchester, OH – ranked #13 in the nation, 845 pounds

¨ AEP Gavin Plant, Cheshire, OH – ranked #30 in the nation, 660 pounds

¨ AEP Cardinal Plant, Brilliant, OH – ranked #38 in the nation, 560 pounds

¨ W.H. Sammis Plant, Stratton, OH – ranked #40 in the nation, 540 pounds

“Recreational fishing brings in over $760 million to Ohio’s economy.

As a business owner and a tournament fisherman, I’m asking the Bush administration to pass a standard to reduce mercury from power plants by 90%,” said Gary Lowry, Owner of Maumee Bait and Tackle & Fishing Outfitter in Maumee, Ohio.

Unlike other industries, the electric power industry can legally emit unlimited amounts of mercury into the air. In just the past decade, medical and municipal waste incinerators have slashed their emissions of mercury by more than 90 percent. Cost-effective technology is currently available to reduce mercury pollution from power plants, according to the USEPA.

Reel Danger: Power Plant Mercury Emissions and the Fish We Eat comes as the Bush administration prepares to finalize a highly controversial proposal to delay meaningful reductions in mercury emissions from power plants until at least 2018. The Clean Air Act calls for the maximum achievable reductions of such emissions by 2008. The Bush plan, which was written in part by utility industry lobbyists, has sparked unprecedented public opposition and a nationwide call for stringent and timely controls on mercury from power plants.

“Many Ohioans fish to put food on the table, not just to catch and release. That’s why we need a strong federal protection right away, not a generation from now. But the mercury reductions proposed by the Bush administration’s plan are too little, too late,” added David Celebrezze of the Ohio Environmental Council.

A copy of the report, including the list of waterways sampled in Ohio and fish test results, is at //www.PIRG.org and //www.theOEC.org .

Ohio PIRG ( //www.ohioPIRG.org ) is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.

The Darby Creek Association ( //www.DarbyCreeks.org ) unites concerned citizens to preserve, protect, and restore the scenic Darby Creek Ecosystem so that this and future generations may benefit from its rich diversity.

The Ohio Environmental Council ( //www.theOEC.org ) is a statewide network of more than 100 state and local conservation groups.

You can take the first steps to protect yourself right now. Greenpeace has teamed up with a laboratory at the University of North Carolina Asheville to offer you an inexpensive, easy way to find out an indication of how much mercury you have in your system. Go to //www.greenpeaceusa.org/cen/mercury to sign up today.


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