Fishing coalition calls for reduction
in mercury pollution
Environmental worries, regulation concerns prompt letter
By Ed Culhane
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
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
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
"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
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."