ANN ARBOR – 115 waterways in Michigan have advisories for mercury pollution, according to the latest government data outlined in a new report from Environment Michigan. These advisories instruct citizens to limit their consumption of certain fish in Michigan waterways due to mercury contamination.
The new report, entitled “Toxic Waterways: Mercury Pollution in Michigan’s Waters,” found:
•115 waterways in Michigan have advisories for mercury pollution.
•Every square inch of the Great Lakes is also under mercury advisory.
“Being surrounded by water is one of the things that makes our state so unique, but rampant mercury pollution turns these beautiful places into a toxic soup,” said Jessica Surma, Federal Field Associate for Environment Michigan. “The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect us from toxic mercury. For a state that touches four of the five Great Lakes and boasts 11,000 inland lakes, that is great news for Michigan’s children, families, and water-lovers.”
Environment Michigan’s report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to finalize a landmark standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in December. This will be the first time in history that EPA limits toxic mercury pollution from power plants.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, with two-thirds of all airborne mercury pollution coming from power plants. They emit mercury into our air, which then falls into our waterways with rain or snow, where it builds up in fish and enters the food chain. A drop of mercury can contaminate local and regional water bodies, making fish from those waterways unsafe to eat.
Brenda Archambo, Michigan Outreach Consultant with the National Wildlife Federation, emphasizes the impact of mercury pollution on the state’s outdoors legacy. “As a sportswoman, I am particularly concerned about mercury,” Archambo said. “This harmful air toxic settles from the air onto our lakes, rivers, and forests, polluting the environment and accumulating up the food chain as fish and wildlife consume the contamination. This directly affects many species, including walleye, perch, bass, muskie, pike, sturgeon, and waterfowl, all of which are revered as part of our state’s angling, hunting and conservation heritage.”
Eating contaminated fish is the main source of human exposure to mercury. For children, mercury exposure can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ. And for adults, even a low-level dose of mercury from fish consumption can lead to defects similar to those found in children, as well as fertility and cardiovascular problems.
Mercury pollution is so widespread that EPA estimates show one in ten women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant.
Studies show that when local sources of mercury pollution are cleaned up, concentration levels in waterways rapidly decrease. But while EPA is working to address this problem by cutting mercury emissions from power plants, industry lobbyists and their Congressional allies are trying to stop EPA from doing its job by threatening to block the new mercury standard and other rules that limit dangerous air pollution.
“EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standard will clean up the poison in Michigan’s waterways, making our fish safer to eat, and our families healthier,” said Surma. “EPA should protect Michigan’s families and move forward with the strongest standard possible.”