Fishing is one of Ed Scholl's favorite pastimes.
"I do come out fish quite a bit every other week perhaps I do like to eat the fish I catch." Scholl says.
But what Scholl doesn't know is that those fish he's eating could be harmful.
Mercury levels in freshwater fish across the nation have remained stubbornly high, with many species too contaminated to eat, especially by pregnant women and children. What's the cause?
Researchers point to three in particular: mercury drifting on air currents from overseas power plants and small-scale gold mining operations, climate change, and, reductions in acid rain. Charles Driscoll at Syracuse University is a nationally known mercury expert.
"The largest areas of releases of mercury to the air are in Asia and they're increasing very rapidly and mercury can travel for very long distances. It can travel for half a year and easily travel around the globe," Driscoll says.
The problem with mercury is that it's very persistent. Once it gets into the water, it stays around for a very long time.
Eating fish with too much mercury can cause a variety of problems including muscle weakness, and vision speech and hearing impairment. Children and fetuses are the most vulnerable. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are still more than 75,000 u.s. newborns each year that may have increased risk of learning disabilities associated with mercury exposure in the womb.
Exactly how serious a problem is difficult to gauge for one very specific reason. there have been cutbacks in fish monitoring nationwide. The EPA no longer has a full-time fish mercury position.
"I was not aware of mercury levels in freshwater fish," Scholl says. "It would change my behavior. I wouldn't eat them."
Fish consumption advisories:
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