Friday, August 27, 2004

Fish Advisories Rising Due to Mercury Risks

Fish Advisories Rising Due to Mercury Risks
EPA: Mercury Emissions Falling, but Fishing Advisories Rising

by Jennifer Warner

Aug. 25, 2004 -- Eating fish from more than a third of the country's lakes and a nearly quarter of its rivers may not be a healthy idea, according to a new EPA report that shows the threat of mercury contamination is rising in American waters.

The annual report shows that more than 100,000 of America's lakes and 800,000 miles of its rivers are now under advisory due to fish contamination and pollution risks.

Officials say most of the new fish advisories are due to potential mercury contamination. Eating fish or shellfish containing low levels of mercury does not pose a health threat to most people. But eating fish that contains higher levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child's development.

The FDA and EPA have recently advised women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid larger fish that typically contain higher levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Fish Advisories on the Rise

The report shows that 48 states, the District of Columbia, and American Samoa issued more than 3,000 fish advisories in 2003, an increase of 280 from 2002.

Officials say the number of fish advisories is rising although emissions for major pollutants are declining because more rivers and lakes are being tested.

States are responsible for monitoring their own waters by testing fish for pollutants that accumulate within the tissues, such as mercury or dioxin. As a result, there is significant state-by-state variation in the numbers of waters and pollutants tested.

Overall, EPA officials say the national trend is for states to monitor different waters each year without retesting waters monitored in previous years.

There were 31 states with statewide fish advisories in effect in 2003, and officials say new statewide fish advisories in Montana and Washington are largely responsible for the increase in lake acreage and river miles under advisory. Hawaii also issued a statewide fish advisory in 2003 for its entire coastline.

The report shows the number of waters with fish advisories represent:

. 75% of America's contiguous coastal waters, including 92% of the Atlantic Coast, 100% of the Gulf Coast, and 37% of the Pacific Coast
. 100% of the Great Lakes and their connecting waters
. 35% of the nation's total lake acreage
. 24% of America's total river miles

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