New EPA study shows widespread freshwater fish contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reporting the results of a new study indicating that game fish in approximately half of all U.S. lakes and reservoirs contain mercury at levels potentially harmful to people who may be eating them. The study also shows that fish in nearly one in five of the sampled water bodies contains potentially harmful levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
“These results reinforce Administrator [Lisa] Jackson strong call for revitalized protection of our nation’s waterways and long-overdue action to protect the American people, said Peter S. Silva, an assistant administrator with the agency’s Office of Water. “EPA is aggressively tacking the issues the report highlights. Before the results were even finalized, the agency initiated efforts to further reduce toxic mercury pollution and strenghten enforcement of the Clean Water Act–all part of a renewed effort to protect the nation’s health and environment.”
In a press release, EPA attributed much of the mercury contamination to the burning of fossil fuels in general and burning coal in particular.
“From 1990 through 2005,” EPA reported, “emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.”
According to EPA, the report is based on the analysis of tissue samples gathered from fish that were collected in a “nationally representative sample of 500 lakes and reservoirs.” Not surprisingly, given previous studies, EPA said it found detectable concentrations of mercury and PCBs in all tissues collected over a four year period.
“Because these findings apply to fish caught in lakes and reservoirs,” EPA cautioned, “it is particularly important for recreational and subsistence fishers to follow their state and local fish advisories.”
Although fish were collected from 14 Washington lakes and reservoirs, no fish tested for the study were from the Spokane River watershed PCB levels have prompted fish advisories.
“This study illustrates the challenge we face in managing our waterbodies to meet to goals of the Clean Water Act to be fishable and swimmable,” said Spokane Riverkeeper Rick Eichstaedt. “Unfortunately, our Spokane River has many of the problems illustrated by this study with high levels of PCBs, PBDEs, and heavy metals. These persistent pollutants limit our community’s ability to use the river.”