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EPA study finds every fish tainted by mercury

PUBLISHED: August 5, 2004

By Tom Watts
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources make fish in Michigan lakes and rivers unsafe to eat, according to a report released Wednesday.
In EPA tests of fish caught in 27 Michigan lakes, every fish sample tested was contaminated with mercury, while 56 percent contained mercury levels that exceed EPA's "safe" limit for women of childbearing age, according to an analysis of data compiled by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan.

The report, "Reel Danger: Power Plant Mercury Emissions and the Fish We Eat," comes as the Bush administration prepares to finalize a proposal that would delay significant reductions in mercury emissions from power plants until 2018.

An environmental advocate for PIRGIM said the Clean Air Act calls for the maximum achievable reductions of such emissions by 2008.

"Michigan families deserve more than delays and weak proposals to control toxic mercury pollution," said Kate Madigan, noting the report comes two years after Gov. Jennifer Granholm pledged to eliminate mercury from power plants.

"Like the contaminated fish we cannot eat, the Bush administration should throw back its proposal and start over. We need the Granholm administration to take immediate action to reduce mercury coming from Michigan's power plants," Madigan said.

The report is based on the first available data from EPA's ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue.

"The data is startling," Madigan said Wednesday at a news conference on the Detroit River at Belle Isle.

One hundred percent of predator fish samples from Michigan lakes contained mercury levels exceeding the "safe" limit, Madigan said.

A sample of four lake trout from Torch Lake were found to have an average mercury concentration of 0.59 parts per million. Rock bass sampled from White Lake in Oakland County had an average concentration of 0.18 ppm and walleye in Houghton Lake had an average of 0.39 ppm.

Mercury is toxic to the developing brain, and exposure in the womb can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays and other serious reactions in children.

"Michigan's power plants can reduce mercury by 90 percent by the end of the decade," Madigan said, "and Gov. Granholm should require them to do so."

Yvonne Thigpen, a registered dietitian at Mount Clemens General Hospital, said moderate fish consumption provides omega-3 fatty acids, and some fish can help reduce heart disease.

"Because of mercury in our water the recommendation is to choose a variety of fish if you eat it twice a week," Thigpen said, noting the recommendation is up to 6 ounces of fish a week. "If the person is pregnant or planning to get pregnant, they should limit the intake of fish for themselves and for their young children."

A rally will be held Saturday in Royal Oak to draw public support in helping reduce mercury in Michigan lakes. For information on time and location, call (517) 664-2600. To order a copy of the Reel Danger report, call (734) 662-6597.

h2o<---says not good

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Thank you for the information...I will pass this along to my son and husband who are ALWAYS fishing. Guess they are back to catch-n-release.

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FDA Home Page | CFSAN Home | Search/Subject Index | Q & A | Help

March 2004 EPA-823-R-04-005

What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
2004 EPA and FDA Advice For:
Women Who Might Become Pregnant
Women Who are Pregnant
Nursing Mothers
Young Children
Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish:
"What is mercury and methylmercury?"
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.

"I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so why should I be concerned about methylmercury?"
If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

"Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?"
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.

"I don't see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I do?"
If you want more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety website or the EPA website at

"What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?"
Fish sticks and "fast-food" sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.

"The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what's the advice about tuna steaks?"
Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.

"What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?"
One week's consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.

"Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?"
Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.

For further information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit FDA's Food Safety website

For further information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's Fish Advisory website or contact your State or Local Health Department. A list of state or local health department contacts is available at Click on Federal, State, and Tribal Contacts. For information on EPA's actions to control mercury, visit EPA's mercury website at

This document is available on the web at

Seafood Information and Resources

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FDA Home Page | Search FDA Site | FDA A-Z Index | Contact FDA
FDA/Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition
Hypertext updated by dms/cjm July 30, 2004

h2o<--interesting reading

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Your Welcome Mike, people have to realize the hazards of things they would never think of. It's the little things that can get us. It's just a shame pollution is such a big part of the planet. Everybody just has to work together to do what we can to keep it to a minimum.

h2o<--says it's the way of the world.

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It's interesting, the fish that are the most contaminated are ocean fish yet the cause they say is our power plants and industrialization. Our heaviest industries are in the midwest the last time I checked, not on the coasts. I realize that most of our river water eventually gets to the ocean but isn't mercury much heavier than water? Would mercury entering the St. Clair River actually make it to the Atlantic Ocean?

I am sorry but whenever I read an article like this I have to ask who are the people behind such a study, what were their motives, and who paid for it. I realize the EPA was mentioned but they are under a lot of political pressure to agree with poweful environmental and amimal rights groups. Some of these groups would take our fishing rods away if they could, eg, PETA.

Me, I will eat all the walleye I catch from the St. Clair and Erie systems. I will cut off all the fat from the belly of the keepers though and throw back the larger fish. I can't believe a fifteen to 21 inch walleye has been able to accumulate toxic amounts of mercury. Just my 2 cents and I hope I didn't offend anyone.


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I'm with you "Old Man of the Sea" Let us not go overboard here. As far as I am concerned lakes Erie and St. Clair are cleaner today then they were in the seventies. The banning of phosphates had alot to do with this. That doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement , there's plenty.
You hit the nail right on the head when you said you are leery of who funded the study. Remember that this is an election year and the Macomb daily is not exactly a friend to the Bush administration. Like everything else in life you need to use common sense. Throw the larger fish back, cut off the fat and don't be afraid to eat fish under 22 inches. The ministry of natural resources in Canada and I believe the DNR in Michigan both have no consumption limits on their charts for walleye under 22 inches. That goes for both the Lake and the river. Now all of a sudden you are going to tell me that it's not the truth? Com'on something smells fishy here.
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