Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Mercury lurks: Think twice about eating fish caught in Ohio streams



By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

A new study by the Ohio Public Interest Research Group found that all of the more than 1,000 fish caught in 70 different state waterways were contaminated with mercury, a harmful neurotoxin that can damage developing brains and nervous systems in babies.

The study, called "Reel Danger," analyzed state and federal Environmental Protection Agency data on toxins in fish tissue. It found that some of Ohio's most popular sport fish, including walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and northern pike - contain dangerous mercury levels.

In addition, the study said that power companies that generate electricity from coal-fired plants - such as the handful of Cinergy plants in the region - are the biggest source of mercury.

Fish were sampled in several waterways in Greater Cincinnati, including the Ohio River, Mill Creek and the Little Miami River.

Industry representatives say the study is flawed in several respects, including its assumption that the mercury in fish comes from power company smokestacks.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issues annual warnings to people who catch fish for their dinner, saying they should generally eat no more than one fish meal per week from Ohio waters, because of mercury.

National EPA scientists also estimated earlier this year that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in their blood to put unborn children at risk of mercury poisoning.

The PIRG report adds to those findings by basing its report on the first available data from U.S. EPA's ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue. The report also considered recent state EPA fish testing.

Erin Bowser, state director of the Ohio PIRG, said power plant emissions are by far the biggest source of mercury in the environment, and called on the federal government to tighten a current proposal that would reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent in about 14 years and allow power companies that pollute more than the law allows to purchase pollution "credits." Bowser said current technologies would allow a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions in five years or less.

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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