Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mercury (continues) Rising

From yesterday's Post and Courier, a story on DHEC's (pathetic?) effort to deal with the mercury contamination issue faced by our state. Signs are great; requiring the absolute best pollution controls on coal plants (or denying permits for new plants) would be better.

Mercury warnings posted
Signs about tainted fish going up at fishing spots in S.C.

By Tony Bartelme
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoping to raise awareness about mercury-tainted fish, health officials have begun posting roughly 400 warning signs at fishing holes and lakes across South Carolina where biologists have found high levels of mercury.

DHEC State health officials are installing signs on the Edisto River and other sites around the state advising people about the dangers of eating fish with high levels of

Written in English and Spanish, the signs have pictures of fish tailored to each particular water body and include advice on how much fish is safe to eat and, in some cases, whether people should avoid eating a single bite.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin linked to nervous disorders, brain damage and other health problems.

A series in The Post and Courier last year identified freshwater mercury hot spots in the state and revealed for the first time how people who frequently eat fish from these areas have unusually high levels of mercury in their bodies.

The series prompted the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to take a new look at how it measures and regulates mercury. Installing the signs is one of the first steps in this effort.

"The signs are to increase awareness about eating the right types and safe amounts of fish," said David Wilson, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Water.

Wilson said the 400 signs cost about $50,000 and should be in place within six weeks. Among other things, the signs include advice to those most at risk of mercury poisoning — women who are pregnant, nursing or in childbearing years.

Some signs also will identify waters that have high levels of fecal-coliform bacteria from human or animal waste, he said. People who swim in these waters have a higher chance of getting sick.

More than 1,700 miles of river in South Carolina have fish with high levels of mercury, DHEC records show. Man-made sources of mercury include coal-fired power plants, cement plants and certain factories.

"There was such a burning need for these signs," said Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League. "Unless people had computers or read the paper, they weren't likely to know that most of our rivers have fish that are toxic for human consumption."

The next step, added Blan Holman of the Southern Environmental Law Center, is for DHEC to clamp down on the state's biggest mercury polluters: coal-fired power plants."

Read previous stories on mercury in the Post and Courier

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