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MERCURY MAKING NATION'S FISH
UNSAFE TO EAT

Mercury contamination is at crisis levels around the country according to a new study released today. Fishing for Trouble, a Clear the Air report prepared by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, surveys the most recent data on mercury fish consumption advisories issued in 2002 and finds that fish consumption warnings on America's rivers and lakes due to mercury contamination cover a greater area than ever before.

Across the country there were 2,148 active mercury advisories in effect for at least 12 million acres of lakes (almost 30% of all lake acres) and 453,101 miles of rivers (almost 13% of all river miles). These advisories urge people to avoid or limit consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury.

The Washington D.C., area is no different. Since 2000, Maryland has seen 17,000 miles of rivers - including the Potomac and Anacostia - and more than 77,000 acres of its lakes put under mercury health advisory. Mercury levels found by the District of Columbia in 2000 strongly suggest that consumption of certain fish in these rivers should be limited.

"Every day that the weather is right, you can find fisherman at Hain's Point and across the Washington metro area catching fish that may send them fishing for trouble," said Angela Ledford, Director of Clear the Air. "The Bush administration needs to clean up the oldest and dirtiest power plants that are spewing this mercury-not let them off the hook."

Fishing for Trouble comes during National Fishing and Boating Week, currently being celebrated around the country with free fishing offered by several states. In addition, Congress is moving forward with the Bush Administration's so-called "Clear Skies Initiative," which would triple the amount of mercury pollution allowed from power plants than allowed under the existing Clean Air Act, allow industry ten additional years to implement mercury controls, and allow some sources of mercury to pollute without any limits whatsoever. The oldest and dirtiest grandfathered power plants are the single largest uncontrolled industrial source of mercury in the U.S.

Mercury is a toxic metal that, when ingested (usually in contaminated food, like fish), can lead to neurological damage, especially for children. Health problems include attention and language deficits, impaired memory and cognition, and impaired visual and motor function. A recent study found that eight percent of American women of childbearing age have elevated levels of mercury in their bodies, putting approximately 322,000 newborns at risk due to exposure in utero.

"We have known for years that mercury poses a serious threat to public health and recreational fishing, but this report shows just how widespread the problem really is," said U.S. PIRG Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan. "Congress should do everything they can to stop the Bush administration's air pollution plan."

Other key national findings of the report include:

Since 2001, the number of river miles under advisory for mercury has increased by 9%, and the number of lake acres under advisory for mercury has increased by 19%.

Mercury contaminated fish are a threat to recreational fishing. In 2001, recreational anglers spent $36.5 billion on fishing.

Nine of the 19 states with mercury warnings covering all of their inland lakes or rivers-Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin-are also among the top twenty states for expenditures on recreational fishing.

More than $27.8 billion of the $36.5 billion spent on fishing in 2001 was spent in states that have active fish consumption warnings for mercury.

The report also highlighted an ongoing effort to implement the Clean Air Act that could protect public health and recreational fishing by removing mercury from the fish supply. After years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency could act as early as this year to deliver major mercury reductions from power plants. If faithfully implemented, the Clean Air Act would cut power plant mercury emissions by 90%.

"The epidemic of mercury fish warnings should tell us that we are at a crossroads," said U.S. PIRG's Corrigan. "The law is waiting to be enforced. The Bush administration wants to gut it, leaving the American public unable to eat the fish we catch."

Written by: U.S. PIRG


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