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Great Lakes Article:

Mercury concerns keep advisory on fish in force
By Paul A. Long
The Cincinnati Post
06/06/03


Ohio and Kentucky are two of 19 states -- almost all in the Midwest and Northeast -- that have statewide advisories telling people to watch how much fish they eat from the state's rivers and lakes.
Another 29 states have similar advisories about specific bodies of water -- including the entire Great Lakes system -- mainly because of deposits of mercury from coal-burning power plants, according to a new study by the Sierra Club.

The problem isn't new: Ohio has had its advisory in effect since 1997; Kentucky's was instituted in 2000.

It isn't likely to go away soon, either. Mercury is a substance that lasts a long, long time.

"Mercury doesn't go away," said Glen Brand, the Sierra Club's Midwest region representative, who lives in Clifton. "It doesn't break down in the environment."

Two population groups are particularly susceptible to mercury poisoning: women of child-bearing age, especially pregnant women, and children under 6. The advisories on eating fish caught in Ohio or Kentucky waters say neither group should eat more than one serving of such fish per week.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that accumulates in fish and becomes more concentrated as it moves up the food chain. The three major sources for mercury emissions are power plants, and municipal waste and medical waste incinerators.

Because the upper South and Midwest have more coal-burning power plants than the rest of the country, most of the states with statewide advisories are located there. The remainder are in the Northeast, which also gets the impact from coal-burning plants farther west because of prevailing wind patterns.

The adverse health effects from mercury include reduced developmental IQ and problems with motor skills such as eye-hand coordination.

Kentucky officials say that, while the warnings are real, people should not get unduly anxious over them.

"There's mercury in fish flesh, like there is in a lot of things we eat," said Ted Crowell, assistant director of fisheries in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He said the state instituted its advisory simply to let people know about the potential problems. He said, though, that he doubted many women or children would eat freshly caught fish more than once a week.

"Whenever we look for mercury in fish flesh, we find it," Crowell said.

"We feel obligated to let people know -- so they can make an informed decision about whether to eat it."


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