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Great Lakes Article:

Fishing coalition calls for reduction in mercury pollution
Environmental worries, regulation concerns prompt letter to EPA
By Ed Culhane
Post-Crescent
02/25/04

A coalition of fishing groups from six Midwest states, representing millions of outdoors enthusiasts, has formed behind the common goal of sharply reducing mercury pollution.

Fishing organizations from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio have co-signed a letter that will be submitted as testimony in Chicago today as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency holds a national public hearing on proposed federal rules designed to cut mercury emissions.

Many coal-burning plants are unregulated. The federal Clean Air Act mandates that modern pollution controls be in place by 2008. The Bush administration proposal replaces that standard with regulations that would reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent by 2010 and 70 percent by the year 2018.

"A good plan, if implemented, would reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2008," said Sam Washington, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, representing more than a quarter million hunters and fishermen.

The EPA estimates that coal-burning power plants emit 50 tons of mercury into the atmosphere each year, far outpacing any other source. While mercury can remain airborne for up to a year and travel great distances, nearly half of it falls within 60 miles of the smokestack.

In lakes and rivers, it is transformed by bacteria into methyl mercury, a potent neurotoxin that works its way up the food chain, accumulating in greater concentrations with each step. Most at risk are young children and the fetuses of pregnant women who have eaten mercury-contaminated fish. Methyl mercury interferes with the development of the nervous system.

Because of this, all six of the Midwest states public fish consumption advisories based on levels of mercury found in the fish people like to catch and eat. In some states, including Wisconsin and Michigan, the mercury consumption warnings fill a larger pamphlet than the fishing regulations.

"Mercury contamination has taken away the simple, pleasurable act of bringing fish home for the family to eat," said Brad Maurer, president of the Ohio Smallmouth Alliance.

The fishing groups pointed to a number of problems in getting their message out. Scott Sparlin of the Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River said the average person is outraged by pollution, but feels helpless in the face of complex regulations put out by federal agencies.

Mercury pollution is insidious in that its effects are not obvious except when measured by medical professionals.

"The bad thing is we canít see it and we canít smell it," said Paula Yeager of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. "We donít know itís there until they do the studies."

George Meyer, president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said utilities agree that reductions are necessary but argue it would be too difficult or impossible to meet the sharp reductions anticipated by the Clean Air Act.

"In fact, the technology is there," he said. "Industry has already shown that it can be done."

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