Monday, November 16, 2009

EPA study shows widespread mercury and PCB contamination of U.S. lakes

For the first time the Environmental Protection Agency says it's able to estimate the percentage of U.S. lakes and reservoirs that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). After a four-year study, EPA reports 49 percent of U.S. lakes and reservoirs show mercury contamination in game fish and 17 percent show PCB contamination. Concentrations of toxic chemicals were found in fish tissues in all 50 states.

"These results reinforce Administrator [Lisa] Jackson’s strong call for revitalized protection of our nation’s waterways and long-overdue action to protect the American people," Peter S. Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, said in a news release. "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."

Burning fossil fuels, mostly coal, is the cause of nearly half of human-caused mercury emissions to the air, and EPA says in a news release these emissions are also a significant contributor to mercury levels in water. EPA notes mercury air emissions decreased 58 percent between 1990 and 2005, and says it's committed to enacting regulations to cause similar change in mercury levels in water. EPA also reiterates its previous position that women of child-bearing age should continue to follow its guidelines for fish consumption relating to mercury. (Read more)

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