by Don Jordan

POSTED 12/20/04

West Virginia has become the first state to post a statewide advisory against eating fish from all state waters.  Mercury has contaminated all the state’s waterways and the fish in them, including the Potomac, and both dioxins and PCBs are also cited in the West Virginia warning.

According to the Associated Press, the fish consumption “advisory” came after a two-year West Virginia University study of fish throughout the state.  The state now joins surrounding states which had already issued mercury contamination warnings.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mercury fact sheet, freshwater fish average 0.13 parts per million of mercury.   Larger fish, especially major freshwater predators like largemouth bass, walleye, trout and salmon, have a lot more mercury in them, like five or six times more.

Last summer, EPA announced results of a nationwide fish sampling project in which every fish tested was contaminated with mercury.  Indiana was among the states tested.

Indiana’s consumption advisory does not reflect the universal nature of mercury contamination found by the feds, but it does single out numerous lakes, reservoirs and streams mercury in our backyards:

*Dogwood Lake (at Glendale Fish & Wildlife Area).  Indiana’s advisory says bluegill, redear sunfish and warmouth are safe to eat if they are under seven to eight inches.

*Griffy Lake on Bloomington’s north side has some really hot largemouth.  The State Dept. of Health says don’t eat more than one largemouth a month if it is 11 inches long or longer.

*Lake Lemon in northern Monroe County has hot catfish, but they are loaded with PCBs, not just mercury.  One meal of  20 inch or over flathead a month is the limit. Unlimited consumption of bluegill and crappie up 7 to 9 inches respectively is stated.

*Monroe Reservoir lists bluegill up to seven inches and carp up to 21 inches as safe to eat any time, as much as you want.  Curiously no warning on the lake’s major predators has been posted yet.  If bluegill over 7 inches (try to find one in Mornoe) are contaminated, it only stands to reason than there must be at least some contamination in largemouth bass, walleye and hybrid white-stripped bass.

*Patoka Reservoir in Orange and Dubois counties has both PCBs and Mercury, but warnings are posted only for bluegill over 6 inches and carp over 23 inches.

*Clear Creek and Salt Creek (below the Monroe dam) are both loaded with PCBs, and catfish in Bean Blossom Creek are on the one meal a month list.  All species in Salt Creek from above Williams dam to Salt Creek’s confluence with Clear Creek are in Indiana’s highest or most contaminated category—do not eat any of these fish.

The list of contaminated Indiana streams is a long one.  It is so long that you may as well say there isn’t a stream in the state free of mercury and PCBs.  

According to EPA's 1999 National Emissions Inventory, coal-fired electric power plants are the largest source of human-caused mercury air emissions in the U.S. Power plants account for about 40 percent of total U.S. (about 48 tons in 2002) manmade mercury emissions. Other large sources are industrial boilers (about 10 percent of U.S. mercury emissions), burning hazardous waste (about 5 percent), and chlorine production (also about 5%).  Public waste incinerators are also included.  The rest comes from discarded batteries, paints containing mercury and a combination of thousands of small sources.

So, what’s the big deal about mercury?  Mercury attacks the human nervous system, much in the same way a disease like syphilis does.  People exposed to high doses also suffer heart troubles.  Mothers pass mercury along to their children.  Most medical literature notes that children exposed to mercury suffer from lowered intelligence and a variety of other behavioral disorders.  PCBs have similar effects, so when you feed a kid a fish nowadays, you are giving that kid a double dose of both mercury and PCBs.

While the EPA has been warning us about mercury for the last few years, a proposed rule to decrease mercury release from power plants and incinerators was dumped earlier this year in favor of one that gives industry 15 years to reduce their discharges.

As is typical in such cases, industrial lobbyists are claiming nobody can prove it is “their” 48 tons of mercury discharged a year that is contaminating our fish.  Industry backers have claimed everything from “it has been there all along and you just now found it” to “it is natural mercury leaching into the water.” 

Those of us who love to fish and eat fish will sit back and shake our heads as we have been doing over the past 30 years, depending on a government whose rule-making is determined by the very industries that are poisoning us.

Want to know what your mercury consumption is, based on eating fish?  Go to on the internet and pick the fish you eat, enter your weight and how much of this fish you eat a week, and your exposure is calculated.  For me, eating 16 ozs. of freshwater perch a week took up 90 percent of my tolerance level.  This is from eating contaminated fish alone, and fish at the national mercury average level.

Mercury and PCBs in our fish are yet another wake-up call.  It is time to get interested in stopping pollution again, if you have time between shooting Buds and Cuervo, football and basketball games, and buying yellow ribbons for the pickup truck.

Here is the U.S. EPA’s mercury web site:



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