MI: Study: Mercury levels in fish higher than expected

Detroit – While environmental controls have limited the amount of new mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region, a recent study reveals levels of mercury found in some species of fish in Michigan waterways have continued to increase.

A report issued by the Biodiversity Research Institute, Great Lakes Commission in Ann Arbor and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse noted that despite general declines in mercury levels throughout the Great Lakes, mercury concentrations still exceed human thresholds, especially in inland lakes and rivers.

The report, Great Lakes Mercury Connections: The Extent and Effects of Mercury Pollution in the Great Lakes Region, summarizes 35 new scientific studies. The latest research shows that mercury concentrations for some fish species and wildlife in particular areas are on the rise.

"The good news is that efforts to control mercury pollution have been working," Dr. David Evers, executive director and chief scientist at the Biodiversity Institute, told Michigan Outdoor News. "But as we expanded our investigations, we have found that fish and wildlife are negatively affected by lower mercury concentrations and across larger areas than we anticipated, and the impacts can be quite serious."

To help Michiganians monitor their fish consumption and determine how much fish is safe to eat, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) issues the Michigan Fish Advisory. The annual report provides water body and fish-specific recommendations for men, women, and children.

"In general, adult men and women should consume no more than one meal a week of several species of fish that are at least nine inches long, including bass (smallmouth, largemouth, and rock), crappie, walleye, and yellow perch," said Angela Minicuci, MDCH public information officer. "Children should eat one or fewer meals of fish per month."

Minicuci cautions that these are only general recommendations and that anyone eating fish taken out of Michigan waters should consult the advisory for more specific guidelines.

Unlike other chemicals found in fish, mercury levels cannot be reduced by cleaning or cooking fish in a certain way. And the only way to detect mercury in fish is to have it tested in a laboratory.

Research has shown that young children and fetuses are at the greatest risk of the health effects of mercury, dioxin, and PCBs found in some types of fish. These chemicals have been connected to liver damage, cancer, birth defects, and could harm brain development if eaten in large quantities or over a long period of time.

In addition to the study, the MDCH annually tests filets from fish taken from lakes and rivers around the state to determine mercury levels. Results are published in the advisory.

The Michigan Fish Advisory and other useful fish consumption information is available at http://www.michigan.gov/eatsafefish, or by calling the MDCH- Division of Environmental Health at (800) 648-6942.

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