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Mercury Deposits Contaminate U.S. Waterways
Environmental News Service

WASHINGTON, DC- Mercury is a leading cause of impairment of American lakes and estuaries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which today released its biennial national summary of water quality. Mercury, originating from power generating facilities and incinerators, mining, natural rock weathering and other sources, is transported through the air into these waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. Mercury was cited in some 2,240 of the nation's 2,800 fish consumption advisories reported in 2000.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to report on the nation's water quality every two years. Today's report is based on water monitoring by the states, territories, jurisdictions and tribes in 2000. Thirty-nine percent of assessed river and stream miles were found to be impaired for one or more uses, an increase of four percent from the parallel EPA report issued for 1998. The percentage of polluted estuaries jumped from 44 percent to 51 percent, and the percentage of polluted shorelines increased from 12 percent to 14 percent.

The percentage of polluted lakes remained unchanged at 45 percent. The information in this report applies only to the waters that were assessed for one or more of the uses, such as swimming, fishing, and fish consumption, designated for them by the states. Under the Clean Water Act, states have primary responsibility for water quality monitoring. States assessed 19 percent of the nation's 3.7 million total river and stream miles, 43 percent of its 40.6 million acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and 36 percent of its 87,300 estuary square miles for this report. G. Tracy Mehan, EPA assistant administrator for water, says the report points out the need for more effective controls to address the nation's water quality problems, especially those originating from diffuse, non-permitted sources such as runoff from agricultural and urban areas, as well as air deposition.

As in the past, these non-point sources dominate as sources of pollution. "EPA and the states need to work together as partners to solve this problem and implement more effective solutions," said Mehan. EPA found that the percentage of assessed river, stream and estuary waters found to be impaired has increased somewhat from the last report in 1998, "although that difference is more likely due to changes in assessment approaches than actual water quality changes," the agency said. Many states are choosing to use higher quality data than in the past in making their assessments, the EPA said. "This is a very disturbing trend," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Water Project, "and given the Bush administration's water policies, it is bound to become even worse." This 2000 National Water Quality Inventory is the 13th in a series published since 1975. New EPA guidance issued in November 2001 calls for future reports to include information on impaired waters as reported by the states under the Clean Water Act. EPA is working to improve identification and cleanup of impaired waters through the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) program.

This program calls for participation of the public in the identification of impaired waters and in the development of pollution "budgets" used to restore the health of those waters. EPA is developing a national monitoring strategy to improve water quality assessment and reporting and to ensure that state water quality findings are comprehensive and comparable among states and over time.

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