REGION'S WATERWAYS Study targets mercury in fish
Mercury has been linked to developmental disability in children.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Five rivers and waterways in the Mahoning/Ashtabula County area made a list compiled by two environmental advocacy groups of the top 10 Ohio rivers and lakes with the highest levels of mercury in fish.
The study, released Wednesday by the State Environmental Leadership Program and the Ohio Environmental Council, listed the Grand River in Ashtabula County as the river whose fish contain the highest levels of mercury pollution.
Meanwhile, the study listed the Mahoning River at No. 3 and Lake Hamilton in Poland as the No. 6 waterways with fish with higher levels of mercury.
Greg Payne, a spokesman for the OEC, said the groups are concerned that the report is proof that more needs to be done to regulate coal-burning power plants, a big contributor of mercury.
"What concerns us is that power plants, and specifically coal-burning power plants in Ohio, are the largest contributor of pollution for mercury," Payne said. "What we would like to see is strict enforcement of the federal Clean Air Act."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly proposed a regulation requiring a 70-percent reduction in mercury from coal-burning power plants by 2018 with a provision that would allow utilities to buy their way out of making some or all of those reductions.
Environmental groups have pointed out that the current Clean Air Act requires the maximum achievable reductions of mercury -- a 90-percent reduction of mercury emissions from coal plants by 2008 -- does not allow for the trading provision, the OEC and the SELP say.
Linda Oros, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said state researchers were unsure about some of the OEC/SELP conclusions.
"They said there are some things that are not on the OEC/SELP study that we have fish advisories for the state of Ohio listed," Oros said of the EPA's researchers. "We're a little confused about their numbers."
Mercury is a neurotoxin emitted from coal-burning power plants. Environmentalists say it has been linked by scientists to developmental disabilities in children.
The report from the environmental advocacy groups analyzed state-collected fish tissue data samples to identify state waterways with mercury present at higher than safe levels for anglers and others who consume fish caught in lakes, rivers and streams.
The groups said they then analyzed the mercury-level data for several popular game fish species such as large-mouth bass, small-mouth bass, Northern pike, spotted bass, walleye, sauger, flathead catfish, channel catfish and then ranked the waterways in order of average mercury concentration across those species.
According to the groups, waterways with less than two fish of these species were dropped from the report to guard against skewed results because of a small sample size.
Sample counts typically involved the averages of two to nine fish per location tested, the groups said. The groups estimated that researchers tested more than 10,000 fish.
The OEC is a network of more than 100 state and local environmental groups. The SELP is an alliance of more than 50 independent, nonprofit and public interest environmental groups based in Madison, Wis.