California OKs Clear Lake tribe’s request for fish consumption guidelines

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Clear Lake. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat, 2013)

By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

May 18, 2014, 2:09 PM

CALIFORNIA -New guidelines for safe consumption of fish and shellfish of interest to a Clear Lake-area Pomo tribe were released last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency.

The recommendations are based on the levels of mercury found in 15 species of fish and shellfish in Clear Lake, long known for contamination from extensive mercury mining from the 1870s to as recently as 1957.

The state EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said it developed the food advisory based on requests from the Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians located in Finley, a small town near Lakeport.

Species added to the new guidelines based on the tribe’s interest include threadfin shad, prickly sculpin, mosquitofish, inland silverside, winged floater mussels and Asian clams, the EPA said.

Sarah Ryan, the tribe’s environmental director, said clams were the Pomos’ main interest. Tribal members who eat clams from the lake recall their parents and grandparents doing the same, she said, though it was unclear whether those clams were the same kind that are eaten today.

Beyond that, Ryan said it seemed right to assess the mercury in other species from the lake.

“We’re really glad they took on the task,” she said.

Dr. George Alexeeff, director of the environmental health hazard office, said in a press release that fish are “part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.”

“They are an excellent source of protein and can help reduce the risk of heart disease,” he said.

The guidelines are designed to help people balance the health benefits “against the risk of exposure to mercury from fish in Clear Lake,” Alexeeff said.

Mercury can harm the brain and nervous system of people, especially in fetuses and children, the EPA said.

Consumption standards for women age 18 to 45 and children under 18 are more restrictive than they are for women over 45 and men.

The advisory said that all people can consume seven servings a week of Asian clams or winged floater mussels, and that women over 45 and men can eat the same amount of inland silverside or threadfin shad.

Women 18 to 45 and children should limit silverside and shad to three servings per week, and should limit the other 10 species — blackfish, bullhead, catfish, crayfish, mosquitofish, bluegill or other sunfish, carp, crappie, hitch and prickly sculpin — to one serving a week.

Women over 45 and men can eat three servings a week of the 10 species, or one weekly serving of bass. Younger women and children should not eat bass.

Six other tribes — the Elem Indian Colony, Robinson Rancheria, Middletown Rancheria, Scotts Valley Rancheria, Koi Nation and the Habematolei Pomo — are also located in Lake County.

Mercury mining was prevalent in the Clear Lake area in the late 1800s, including a productive site, the former Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine, which operated on the lake’s shore until 1957, the EPA said.

The advisory on eating fish from the lake was originally issued in 1987 and was last updated in 2009.

For details on the advisory, go to http://www.oehha.ca.gov/fish/pdf/AdvyClearLake051514.pdf

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)

New Study: Mercury Found In Sport Fish In Remote Northwest Lakes

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows some fish in the West's pristine, alpine lakes like Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park (pictured here) have high mercury levels. | credit: U.S. Geological Survey/John Pritz

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows some fish in the West’s pristine, alpine lakes like Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park (pictured here) have high mercury levels. | credit: U.S. Geological Survey/John Pritz

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — Some bad news for backcountry in the West: Some of the fish in the region’s wild alpine lakes contain unsafe levels of mercury, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the broadest study of its kind to date, the USGS tested various kinds of trout and other fish at 86 sites in national parks in 10 western states from 2008 to 2012. The average concentration of mercury in sport fish from two sites in Alaskan parks exceeded federal health standards, as did individual fish caught in California, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming.

But perhaps more importantly, mercury was detected in all of the fish sampled, even from the more pristine areas of the parks.

The study, conducted jointly by the National Park Service and the USGS, found that mercury levels varied greatly from park to park and even among sites within each park. Overall, 96 percent of the sport fish sampled were within safe levels of mercury for human consumption.

“It’s good news that across this entire study area most of the fish were low,” said Collin Eagles-Smith, a research ecologist with USGS and the lead author of the study. “The concern is that there were some areas, and some fish, that did have concentrations that might pose a threat to either wildlife or humans.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 3.02.31 PM
Spatial distribution of the 21 national parks sampled in this
study. Size of circle represents percentage of total dataset.
Credit: USGS.

 

Two percent of the fish sampled in Mount Rainier National Park exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for safe human consumption. Fish sampled in Olympic National Park had a higher average mercury concentration than some other parks in the region, but none of the samples were above safe human consumption levels.

“Mercury concentrations in those fish in the Pacific Northwest were quite variable,” Eagles-Smith said. “Crater Lake had quite low concentrations in comparison to other parks, whereas Olympic National Park had some of the highest concentrations in comparison to other parks.”

The researchers were surprised to find some of the highest levels of mercury in a small fish called the speckled dace, which were sampled in Capitol Reef and Zion national parks in Utah.

“The concentrations in those fish were comparable to the highest concentrations we saw in the largest, longlived fish in Alaska,” Eagles-Smith said. He added that more research is needed to better understand how mercury is deposited from the atmosphere into the environment and then concentrated at varying levels in different species.

speckleddace_nps
Speckled dace

 

There was some bad news in the study for birds: In more than half the sites tested, fish had mercury levels that exceeded the most sensitive health benchmark for fish-eating birds, Eagles-Smith said.

“People can regulate their intake of fish and wild fish-eating birds can’t. So, they’re going to take in more fish and more mercury as a result, and it can impact their behavior, ability to reproduce and ability to find food.”

Mercury can come from natural sources, like volcanoes. However, since the industrial revolution atmospheric mercury levels have increased three-fold because of the burning of fossil fuels. Recent studies have shown that particulate pollution from China, which could result from the burning of coal among other sources, can and does make its way across the Pacific Ocean to North America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to high levels of mercury in humans may cause damage to the brain, kidneys and the developing fetus. Pregnant women and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury.

New Study: Mercury Found In Sport Fish In Remote Northwest Lakes

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows some fish in the West's pristine, alpine lakes like Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park (pictured here) have high mercury levels. | credit: U.S. Geological Survey/John Pritz | rollover image for more

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey shows some fish in the West’s pristine, alpine lakes like Lake Solitude in Grand Teton National Park (pictured here) have high mercury levels. | credit: U.S. Geological Survey/John Pritz | rollover image for more

 

Ashley Ahearn, KUOW, April 21, 2014

SEATTLE — Some bad news for backcountry in the West: Some of the fish in the region’s wild alpine lakes contain unsafe levels of mercury, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the broadest study of its kind to date, the USGS tested various kinds of trout and other fish at 86 sites in national parks in 10 western states from 2008 to 2012. The average concentration of mercury in sport fish from two sites in Alaskan parks exceeded federal health standards, as did individual fish caught in California, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming.

But perhaps more importantly, mercury was detected in all of the fish sampled, even from the more pristine areas of the parks.

The study, conducted jointly by the National Park Service and the USGS, found that mercury levels varied greatly from park to park and even among sites within each park. Overall, 96 percent of the sport fish sampled were within safe levels of mercury for human consumption.

“It’s good news that across this entire study area most of the fish were low,” said Collin Eagles-Smith, a research ecologist with USGS and the lead author of the study. “The concern is that there were some areas, and some fish, that did have concentrations that might pose a threat to either wildlife or humans.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 3.02.31 PM
Spatial distribution of the 21 national parks sampled in this
study. Size of circle represents percentage of total dataset.
Credit: USGS.

 

Two percent of the fish sampled in Mount Rainier National Park exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for safe human consumption. Fish sampled in Olympic National Park had a higher average mercury concentration than some other parks in the region, but none of the samples were above safe human consumption levels.

“Mercury concentrations in those fish in the Pacific Northwest were quite variable,” Eagles-Smith said. “Crater Lake had quite low concentrations in comparison to other parks, whereas Olympic National Park had some of the highest concentrations in comparison to other parks.”

The researchers were surprised to find some of the highest levels of mercury in a small fish called the speckled dace, which were sampled in Capitol Reef and Zion national parks in Utah.

“The concentrations in those fish were comparable to the highest concentrations we saw in the largest, longlived fish in Alaska,” Eagles-Smith said. He added that more research is needed to better understand how mercury is deposited from the atmosphere into the environment and then concentrated at varying levels in different species.

speckleddace_nps
Speckled dace

 

There was some bad news in the study for birds: In more than half the sites tested, fish had mercury levels that exceeded the most sensitive health benchmark for fish-eating birds, Eagles-Smith said.

“People can regulate their intake of fish and wild fish-eating birds can’t. So, they’re going to take in more fish and more mercury as a result, and it can impact their behavior, ability to reproduce and ability to find food.”

Mercury can come from natural sources, like volcanoes. However, since the industrial revolution atmospheric mercury levels have increased three-fold because of the burning of fossil fuels. Recent studies have shown that particulate pollution from China, which could result from the burning of coal among other sources, can and does make its way across the Pacific Ocean to North America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to high levels of mercury in humans may cause damage to the brain, kidneys and the developing fetus. Pregnant women and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury.

Yum! Climate change means more mercury in fish

By Holly Richmond, Grist

Climate change is ruining beer, maple syrup, chocolate — even your favorite Cosby sweater. Now we can add fish to the list. SWELL.

Basically, warming waters make killifish hungrier, according to new research. Then these bitty fish at the bottom of the food chain eat more mercury-tainted food than usual, storing lots of metal in their tissue as a present for everyone up the food chain, from tuna to humans. Mercury: the gift that keeps on giving! (Did we mention it’s increasingly in bird eggs too?)

Quoth the Washington Post:

[K]illifish at the bottom of the food chain will probably absorb higher levels of methylmercury in an era of global warming and pass it on to larger predator fish, such as the tuna stacked in shiny little cans in the cupboards of Americans and other people the world over.

 

“The implication is this could play out in larger fish…because their metabolic rate is also increasing,” said Celia Chen, a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and one of six authors of the study. “Methylmercury isn’t easily excreted, so it stays. It suggests that there will be higher methylmercury concentrations in the fish humans eat as well.”

Lest you think the Minamata Convention on Mercury last week was just scientists in lab coats breaking open thermometers and cackling wildly, that’s where this research was discussed. Oh yeah, they also signed a massively important treaty:

Delegates from 130 nations at the three-day convention that ended Friday met to sign a treaty that seeks to greatly limit emissions from coal-fired power plants from industrial nations, mining operations in Africa and other sources that pollute oceans.

Good thing no Americans were there because of the government shutdown! (Le sigh.) Who wants a tuna sandwich?

Holly Richmond (hollyrichmond.com) writes and edits things for fun and money. She worked for Grist in the 1890s. Please follow her on Twitter because that is the entire basis of her self-esteem.