Excessive mercury found in area
rainwater, National Wildlife Federation reports
Advisories about fish are already in effect.
By Dan Cortez
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 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
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.