For fish: No escape from mercury pollution

August 19, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.

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This undated handout photo U.S. Geological Survey shows USGS scientists, Lia Chasar and Erica Rau, analyzing fish for mercury in the St. Marys River in northern Florida. (AP Photo/USGS, Mark Brigham)

Cross-posted from the Gazette’s Coal Tattoo blog … 

Dina Cappiello at The Associated Press nailed it with the lead of her story on this new U.S. Geological Survey study on the contamination of fish nationwide with toxic mercury pollution:

No fish can escape mercury pollution.

The study, available online here,  reports that USGS scientists found mercury in every fish they tested in nearly 300 streams — 291 to be exact — all across the country.  According to a USGS news release:

About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the U.S. EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.

And, as the USGS also reported:

Atmospheric mercury is the main source to most of these streams coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United Statesbut 59 of the streams also were potentially affected by gold and mercury mining.

The Obama administration has said it plans to seek more stringent controls on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, abandoning the industry-supported approach advanced by the Bush White House and EPA.

Mercury, according to the USGS, “is one of the most serious contaminants threatening our nation’s waters.” It damages the nervous system and can cause serious learning disabilities in children.

The AP story explained that all but two states — Alaska and Wyoming — have issued fish-consumption advisories because of mercury contamination.

In West Virginia, public health officials urge residents to limit their consumption of fish from every stream and lake statewide  because of mercury contamination.

But, it takes the state of Maryland to come in and force one of the state’s biggest mercury polluters — the PPG chlorine plant in Marshall County — to reduce its emissions.

And, we’ve reported on WVDEP’s “slippery logic” on mercury limits before. You remember, agency officials said there was no need to tighten the state’s mercury limits to match EPA’s national guidelines, because West Virginians eat less fish than the national average. You think the statewide mercury fish advisory has anything to do with that?

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