From: M.J. Ellington, Decatur Daily
Published November 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Anglers' Fish May Have Too Much Mercury

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — People who catch and eat a lot of their own fish may take in too much mercury, say environmentalists who want stricter mercury level standards for state waterways.

People who buy their fish commercially generally do not run the same risk because fish sold through interstate commerce are screened to make sure their mercury levels are acceptable.

The Alabama Department of Public Health monitors mercury levels in state waters and issues alerts when mercury levels are high. Fish absorb mercury from the waters they live in, a concern for environmentalists who want to make sure fish-eating Alabamians aren't getting too much mercury as a result. People whose bodies contain too much mercury, particularly children, may have health problems as a result.

There is a push in Alabama to lower the level of mercury considered acceptable in rivers and streams in the state because of the health concerns for people who eat locally caught fish frequently.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Public Health officials will begin talks about the issue within two weeks, said ADEM spokesman Jeff Hand.


"It is very important to go methodically with the evaluation," Hand said. Mercury levels are different in every stream and may change from week to week. The amount of mercury that causes problems for a child or very small adult may be different for a large adult. Hand said it is not easy to develop a one-number-fits-everyone regulation.

"It is important to go methodically with an evaluation," Hand said, a conclusion echoed by State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson.

"Getting it right is important because mercury contamination is a long-term health problem, but it builds up slowly in the body," said Williamson, whose department monitors mercury levels.

"It is more important to go slowly and develop the right regulations than to hurry it up and get it wrong."

Williamson said concerns come for people who eat fish they catch in state waters several times per week and for pregnant women and children. Occasional consumption of locally caught fish is not a problem, he added. Waters in South Alabama generally have higher mercury levels than those in North Alabama.

Public Health now measures mercury levels in fish based on levels set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Williamson.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management governing board member Pat Byington and others who want a stricter mercury standard say the state should use mercury level standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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