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High mercury in fish prompts three new Utah warnings

Published August 24, 2011 12:07 am

Environment • 19 Utah waterways are now listed as having problems with the metal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

State health and environmental officials added three new locations Tuesday to the list of Utah fishing spots where fish contain too much mercury.

People are urged to limit their consumption of black bullhead at Recapture Reservoir in San Juan County and how much brown trout they eat from the Duchesne River near Tabiona in Duchesne County and the Bough Reservoir in Uintah County.

The new fish consumption guidelines bring to 19 the number of places where mercury contamination is considered high enough that anglers and the people who share their catch should limit the amount of fish they eat or avoid eating it altogether.

In addition, fish species were added to standing consumption advisories for Newcastle, Red Fleet and Steinaker reservoirs. The Utah Health Department released the new advisories in conjunction with the Wildlife Resources and Water Quality divisions.

"We recognize there is a need to continue to get the word out," said John Whitehead, assistant director of water quality.

During the past decade, state agencies have tested more than 2,500 fish from 322 waterways — 200 river and stream sites, plus 122 lake and reservoir sites. They have found average mercury concentrations that exceeded the federal Environmental Protection Agency limit at 19 locations.

Drifting in air currents from power plants, gold processing and other sources that can be as far away as China, particles of the metal mercury settle on the land and in water, where it sometimes transforms into dangerous methylmercury.

Then methylmercury moves up the food chain into the flesh of fish and waterfowl. Humans who eat contaminated meat also can build up high levels, so the advisories are aimed at giving guidelines on how much fish is safe to eat.

Women of childbearing age and children are at greatest risk because methylmercury damages developing brains and nervous systems — sometimes even before children are born.

The Great Salt Lake has the nation's only consumption advisory for waterfowl because of high mercury levels, although consumption advisories for fish have been found throughout the United States.

Brian Moench, founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, called the need for new advisories "deplorable and tragic." He noted that mercury, though it causes significant damage to people, is not adequately regulated.

"The cost to society is enormous," he said. "We need to clamp down on it, and we need to do it now."

Paul Dremann, chairman of the Utah Anglers Coalition, said the latest advisories point to the need to study the extent of mercury pollution in the state, as well as the sources of that pollution. So far, the state has tackled both problems with lots of creativity but scant funding.

"If we want to promote our fisheries, it puts a damper on things to have mercury contamination," said Dremann . "You don't want mercury contaminating those blue-ribbon waters."

fahys@sltrib.com

Mercury contamination

At 19 fishing spots in Utah, authorities have advised against eating too much of certain kinds of fish because of mercury contamination. They added new advisories and fish species on Tuesday. Utah's mercury alerts:

Brough Reservoir in Uintah County, brown and rainbow trout*

Calf Creek in Garfield County, brown trout

Desolation Canyon in Carbon County, catfish

Duchesne River near Tabiona in Duchesne County, brown trout*

East Fork Sevier River between Otter Creek and Piute Reservoir in Piute County, brown trout

Gunlock Reservoir in Washington County, largemouth bass

Joe's Valley Reservoir in Emery County, splake trout

Jordanelle Reservoir in Wasatch County, brown trout and smallmouth bass

Mill Creek in Grand County, brown trout

Newcastle Reservoir in Iron County, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and wipers*

Pine Creek in Garfield County, brown trout

Porcupine Reservoir in Cache County, brown trout

Recapture Reservoir in San Juan County, black bullhead*

Red Fleet Reservoir in Uintah County, largemouth and walleye*

Rock Creek below Upper Stillwater Reservoir in Duchesne County, brown trout

Sand Hollow Reservoir in Washington County, largemouth bass

Steinaker Reservoir in Uintah County, bluegill and largemouth bass*

Upper Enterprise Reservoir in Washington County, rainbow trout

Weber River in Morgan County, brown trout

*Changed or new advisory.

For details about the latest advisories, see the http://www.fishadvisories.utah.gov.