Between 1998 and 2005, the US Geological Survey conducted tests on fish from 291 rivers and streams across the United States for mercury. Not one fish had escaped mercury contamination. One-quarter of the fish tested contained levels of mercury higher than those deemed safe for humans, and over two-thirds of the fish tested had mercury levels that exceeding those that safe for fish-eating mammals according the Environmental Protection Agency.
The majority of mercury entering US streams and rivers stems from emissions from coal mining. The emissions enter the air and then are precipitated back into water systems. Therefore water systems don’t need to be adjacent to coal mines to be affected. Researchers found that high-levels of mercury were found even in fish swimming in undeveloped forested areas, including backwaters of Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, and North and South Carolina.
“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds, and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a press release accompanying the study’s findings. “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”
At the same time, earlier this month the EPA approved a major mountaintop removal site for coal mining at Peg Fork Surface Mine near Chattaroy in North Carolina, despite concerns about water contamination. The approval came without a public announcement.
Citation: Scudder, B.C., Chasar, L.C., Wentz, D.A., Bauch, N.J., Brigham, M.E., Moran, P.W., and Krabbenhoft, D.P., 2009, Mercury in fish, bed sediment, and water from streams across the United States, 1998–2005: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5109, 74 p.
Did fish poisoning drive Polynesian colonization of the Pacific?
(07/07/2009) The reasons behind the colonization of the Pacific islands have long been sources of controversy and fascination. Now a new study looks into toxic fish poisoning as a possible migration catalyst. Between AD 1000 and 1450, Polynesian colonization of the South Pacific flourished. The voyages that were undertaken in the discovery of these new lands were very dangerous and the people who conducted them undoubtedly had good reasons to do so. Researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology have performed research which shows that toxic ciguatera fish poisoning would provide sufficient impetus for such risky voyages.
(06/17/2009) In a paper that shows just how strange our modern world has become, Robert P. Friedland, neurologist from the University of Louisville, warns that farmed fish could be at risk of Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, or mad cow disease.
(06/08/2009) In April marine scientist Jennifer Jacquet made the case on her blog Guilty Planet that people should abstain from eating seafood to help save life in the ocean. With fish populations collapsing worldwide and scientists sounding warnings that ocean ecosystems—as edible resources—have only decades left, it is perhaps surprising that Jacquet’s call to abstain from consuming seafood is a lone voice in the wilderness, but thus far few have called for seafood lovers to abstain.