Environmental Protection

EPA Study Finds Contaminated Fish in Almost all States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study has found concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 states.

For the first time, 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 polychlorinated biphenyls (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 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.”

Results from the four-year National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue show that mercury and PCBs are widely distributed in U.S. lakes and reservoirs. Mercury and PCBs were detected in all of the fish samples collected from the nationally representative sample of 500 lakes and reservoirs in the study. Because these findings apply to fish caught in lakes and reservoirs, it is particularly important for recreational and subsistence fishers to follow their state and local fish advisories.

Mercury concentrations in game fish exceeded EPA’s recommended levels at 49 percent of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and PCBs in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17 percent of lakes and reservoirs.

Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity, and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in waterbodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA 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 chemicals in lakes and reservoirs and ensure that fish advisory information is readily available.

Women of child-bearing age and children should continue to follow the advice of EPA and the Food and Drug Administration on fish consumption as it relates to mercury. This study is 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.

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