CONTRIBUTORS

Mercury is not the right legacy to leave our children

Posted Aug. 15, 2011, at 5:25 p.m.

I am a fisherman. Even when I’m not fishing, I often think about fishing. Maine offers a wide diversity of angling opportunities to the piscatorially minded.

In the spring, fall and winter, we challenge ourselves to master the subtle arts of salmon and trout fishing through methods as diverse as bait fishing with ice traps to lithe fly rods offering imitation bugs. In the summer months we can while away entire days until far past sunset battling aggressive and powerful bass and many other species.

Sadly, though, it’s dangerous to eat the fish we catch in most of Maine. The good news is that if we act now to limit the mercury in our water, we can again enjoy the majestic experience of roasting a brook trout to eat after a day on the water.

For more than 40 years, coal fired power plants — many in states to the west of us — have been putting mercury in the air. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that causes brain damage in humans and poisons wildlife. Because of wind patterns, the mercury falls in rain and gets in to the waterways of Maine.

In response to testing, the state issued a Statewide Fish Consumption Advisory for all inland waters in Maine due to mercury contamination — meaning pregnant women and children should not eat any fish caught in our inland waters, and everyone else should severely limit their intake.

This is why the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine joined more than 330 hunting and angling groups that came together nationwide to tell Congress that it needs to support strong Clean Air Act rules like the new limits on mercury and toxic air pollution. The rule would reduce mercury pollution from power plants by 91 percent, prevent 17,000 premature deaths per year, and start reducing toxic pollution in our nation’s lakes, rivers, and streams.

Congress is already well aware that anglers stand in the mercury exposure bulls-eye. In 1997, as directed by Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency delivered its Mercury Study Report. Nearly 15 years ago, the report highlighted the increased risks of mercury exposure among those who fish, stating: “Exposures among specific subpopulations including anglers …indicate that their average exposure to methylmercury may be more than two times greater than those experienced by the average population.”

We have long known about mercury in fish, but newer studies point to the ill effects high mercury levels are having on other wildlife species that do not eat fish. According to a report published in a 2005 edition of Ecotoxicology, mercury is poisoning land mammals and birds that do not eat fish, including migratory song birds.

So what does all this mean? It means that fishermen are far more exposed than even the general population to mercury and more likely to suffer from the health impacts associated with mercury exposure. And while some fish contain more methylmercury than others (big fish that eat smaller fish tend to contain more methylmercury), those who fish and eat even the smaller fish species need to see strict new mercury and air toxic rules now. This is an issue close to sportsmen’s hearts, and one that is important to our outdoor heritage.

This pollution is all the more unacceptable because we have long had technology to significantly reduce these poisons fairly quickly. Thankfully, the EPA thinks so, too. The agency has written a rule to have these plants install pollution controls by 2015, which will reduce mercury emissions by 91 percent. The agency is considering the rule and related public comments and expects to make a decision in November.

Please contact Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and tell them that you want state-of-the-art pollution controls on those poisonous stacks. Ask them to stand up for our health and our outdoor heritage. It’s a simple call that will echo down through future generations.

Matt Dunlap of Old Town is the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

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