Mercury concerns keep advisory
on fish in force
By Paul A. Long
The Cincinnati Post
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
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
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
The adverse health effects from mercury include reduced
developmental IQ and problems with motor skills such as
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
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."