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Article Last Updated: 8/23/2005 01:23 AM



Mercury warning issued for fish at two Utah sites


By Judy Fahys The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake Tribune


Sport fish lovers should avoid eating too much trout from Mill Creek near Moab or bass from Gunlock Reservoir near St. George.

    Monday, the state Division of Water Quality, in cooperation with the state Health Department, issued Utah's first-ever advisories for mercury in fish. With the declaration, Utah becomes the 46th state that has issued warnings about fish with worrisome levels of mercury contamination.     "I wouldn't hesitate to have a meal," said John Whitehead, an environmental scientist with DWQ. "But I wouldn't have five meals a month."     The warnings come after a renewed interest in monitoring the state's environment for mercury. The U.S. Geological Survey released test results earlier this year that showed the Great Salt Lake has the highest levels of toxic mercury ever found in the United States.     Edible fish don't inhabit that lake, but mercury's toxic cousin, methylmercury, can be found in popular fishing waters throughout the state.     It builds up in the food chain, increasing the risk of damage to the brain and nervous system for those exposed to high levels, especially babies and young children. For most people, eating fish from contaminated lakes and streams, month after month, is the most likely source of exposure.     The DWQ enlisted state wildlife researchers to help catch fish from five key locations. Eleven samples of rainbow trout caught in East Canyon Reservoir tested below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's level of concern, 0.3 parts per million.     Logistical problems have delayed catfish sampling from the Green River in Desolation Canyon. And the need for more samples from Lake Powell have delayed any decision on whether to issue an advisory for that popular fishing spot.     Levels came in above EPA's standard for seven fish caught in Gunlock and five in Mill Creek. Notices will be posted at those sites.     DWQ Director Walt Baker noted that more samples will be analyzed from areas throughout the state. A working group of government, advocacy organizations and industry is being formed to plan a strategy for learning how bad the contamination is, what's causing it and how to deal with it.     "We're not at this point trying to find a smoking gun," said Baker.     Barbara Morra, who serves on two water boards in Grand County, called the findings "surprising." She plans to bring up the contamination at an upcoming meeting.     "It does concern me because I know mercury causes problems: It's toxic," she said.     Ed Kent, chairman of the Utah Anglers Coalition, said it is not time yet to raise a red flag, although it is important for the public to be informed.     "From a health perspective, I would want to be made aware if there was a problem," said Kent, whose group has 3,000 members. "I do keep fish, and I eat them."     He welcomed more study of Utah's mercury problem, as did Tim Wagner of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group.     "Maybe this is starting to show what we thought all along," he said, "that the reason Utah hasn't issued any advisories is because it hasn't been doing any testing."        Fish advisory        Eat no more than two 8-ounce servings a month of largemouth bass from Gunlock     Reservoir        Limit consumption of brown trout from Mill Creek to three 8-ounce meals a month        A 4-ounce serving of fish once a month - about the size of a deck of cards - is all of either fish that   should be eaten by women who may become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children.        Exact mercury readings and other information is available at:

   Another good resource is:


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