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Great Lakes Article:

State May Not Inform Public on Fish Toxin Heatlh Issues


John C. Kuehner
Plain Dealer Reporter

Ohio officials are considering whether to reinstate the state's fish advisory program before next summer.

The state health department, which cut the program last month, will meet with officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the coming months to discuss finding money for the program.

There's no rush to reinstate the program this year because tissue samples collected by the EPA and ODNR this summer will be used as a basis for advisories next year. The Health Department already issued this year's alerts.

"It's not a big urgent deal because everything now is current," said EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich demanded yesterday that the state keep the program and expand it because it's not adequate.

Kucinich said his staff will research the issue and draft legislation. He proposed making the alerts mandatory and having the federal government set uniform standards for all states to follow.

"I'm not saying don't eat the fish, but people have a right to know if they consume certain quantities of fish if it will have an adverse effect to their health," Kucinich said.

As part of state budget cuts, the health department eliminated the program to save $100,000. By doing so, it became the first Great Lake state to abolish the voluntary program, which Ohio started about a decade ago.

"I think it is highly irresponsible for a state government not to provide advice on whether the fish are safe to eat," said Gail Krantzberg, director of the Great Lakes regional office of the International Joint Commission, an independent joint Canadian and U.S.-government agency that oversees shared water resources between the countries.

State health officials review fish tissue samples and issue warnings about how much and how often the public should eat certain types of fish contaminated with toxic chemicals.

Women of child-bearing age and children 6 and under are advised not to eat fish caught in Ohio more than once a week because of mercury contamination.

Environmental groups urged residents to contact elected officials to reinstate the program.

"The state has two responsibilities here," said Amy Simpson, state director of Ohio Public Interest Research Campaign, a public advocacy group. "The first is to aggressively reduce toxic chemicals which enter the food chain, and the second is to warn the public where toxic risks exist."

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