DEP looks for mercury in Greenbrier and Cranberry rivers
The Department of Environmental Protection is collecting fish from 17 streams and lakesﾗincluding the Greenbrier and Cranberry Riversﾗin an effort to measure the amount of mercury contamination in fish.
The effort is sponsored by the Division of Air Quality as a result of a state law that requires the DEP to conduct a study examining mercury exposure to state citizens.
The DEPﾒs division of Water and Waste Management is conducting sampling through mid-November. Follow-up sampling will take place every three years to identify trends.
Sampling in 2002 and 2003 resulted in a general statewide fish consumption advisory for mercury.
In steams and lakes, small organisms convert the inorganic mercury to the organic form methyl mercury, which enters the aquatic food chain, according to the DHHR.
As larger fish eat smaller fish, mercury begins to accumulate in tissues and organs.
Mercury continues to move up and accumulate in the food chain as humans or other predators eat contaminated fish.
As it moves up the food chain, mercury can cause serious neurological problems. Health problems associated with mercury can range from small, hard-to-detect health changes to birth defects, and mental or physical retardation in newborns.
Officials with the DHHR point at the burning of fossil fuels, mining and industrial emissions as the source of the mercury in West Virginiaﾒs waters.
The DEPﾒs current study targets largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, sauger, saugeye and walleye species. The fish are being collected at Mount Storm, R.D. Bailey, Sutton, Stonewall Jackson, Elk Fork, Summersville, Tygart, and Cheat lakes, in addition to the Greenbrier, Kanawha, New, Hughes, and Cranberry rivers, along with four smaller waters.
The DHHR has issued consumption advisories for the above species as well as brown trout, channel catfish, flathead catfish and all suckers.
Based on the species and type of fish, the advisory recommends only one or two meals per month for listed species.
Women of childbearing age, children, and people who regularly eat fish are particularly susceptible to contaminants that, like mercury, build up in the body over time, according to the DHHR. People in these categories should be especially careful to follow the meal sizes and space fish meals according to the agencyﾒs advisory guidelines.
Spacing the meals out helps prevent the contaminants from building up to harmful levels in the body, according to the DHHR. For example, if eating fish in the ﾓOne Meal a Month Group,ﾔ the DHHR recommends waiting a month before eating another meal of fish from any restricted category.
However, the DHHR also notes that it can take up to one year for the body to fully rid itself of accumulated mercury.
Occasionally eating fish in quantities slightly greater than the advisories recommend, such as during an annual fishing vacation, should not present a health hazard, according to the DHHR.
An up-to-date listing of affected fish and consumption advisories can be found at www.wvdhhr.org/fish/current.asp