EPA estimates percentage of lakes and reservoirs with fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals
A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, the EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs.
“These results reinforce Administrator Jackson’s strong call for revitalized protection of our nation’s waterways and long-overdue action to protect the American people,” said Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water. “EPA is aggressively tackling the issues the report highlights. Before the results were even finalized, the agency initiated efforts to further reduce toxic mercury pollution and strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act--all part of a renewed effort to protect the nation’s health and environment.”
The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding the EPA’s recommended levels at 49% of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17% of lakes and reservoirs. These findings are based on a comprehensive national study using more data on levels of contamination in fish tissue than any previous study.
Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity in the U.S., and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in water bodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58%. The EPA said it is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
The study also confirms the widespread occurrence of PCBs and dioxins in fish, illustrating the need for federal, state and local government to continue efforts to reduce the presence of these harmful chemicals in lakes and reservoirs and ensure that fish advisory information is readily available.
It is important that women of child-bearing age and children continue to follow the advice of the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration on fish consumption as it relates to mercury, according to the EPA. This study is also a strong message to state and local governments to redouble their efforts in looking for opportunities to reduce mercury discharges, as well as developing fish advisories, especially to reach those in sensitive and vulnerable populations.