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Excessive mercury found in area rainwater, National Wildlife Federation reports
Advisories about fish are already in effect.
By Dan Cortez
The News-Sentinel
05/30/04


A warning about eating fish caught in Indiana waters because of high mercury levels might have more punch after a new study found excessive levels of the substance in area rainwater as well.

A National Wildlife Federation study reviewed water samples from 12 states, including Indiana. All 12 had an excessive amount of mercury in their rainfall compared to the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paula Yeager, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation, said the advisories affect almost 900,000 Indiana and out-of-state people who fish, casting more than $519 million into the state's economy. "This is something we want people to be aware of, because this is a problem," she said.

According to the water samples, collected by the Mercury Deposition Network, 92 percent of them taken from Huntington Reservoir exceeded EPA standards. Water also was tested in Monroe, Porter and Jefferson counties. Ninety-five percent of the rain samples taken in Indiana exceeded the standards.

The study tracked mercury levels from 1995 to 2001. In Huntington, just five of the samples tested fell below EPA standards. Several samples were 10 times the standard. The EPA standard is 3.5 nanograms - a billionth of a gram - of mercury per liter for lakes and 7.9 for rivers.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that makes its way into the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants, cement manufacturers and other sources burning those fossil fuels. The mercury travels back into bodies of water through rain or other forms of precipitation, where it settles and is eaten by microorganisms, which are then eaten by fish.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Porter County had the highest mercury levels in the state, with some samples testing 33 times what the EPA deems safe for humans.

Felice Stadler of the NWF Clean the Rain Campaign said Thursday areas without major industry, such as Allen County, need to be concerned even though there might not be nearby factories. Once released into the atmosphere, mercury can travel several hundred miles before returning to earth.

State health officials already advise that children and women of child-bearing age limit consumption of fish from all Indiana lakes and streams because of high mercury levels. One scientist with the conservation group expressed surprise that Indiana's mercury problem wasn't greater because of the state's reliance on coal.

Michael Murray, staff scientist at the Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, Mich., speculated that some mercury might be going to other states.

The NWF has denounced the Bush Administration's Clear Skies Initiative, which would allow utilities to emit five times as much mercury through 2017. NWF also wants waste management reformed, increased recycling of mercury and its removal from as many products possible.

The report noted progress in Indiana, including a new law to ban the sale and distribution of novelty products containing mercury, limit the sale of mercury thermometers and require schools to dispose of mercury-containing materials.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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