Dept. of Public Health warns against eating fish with mercury - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Dept. of Public Health warns against eating fish with high mercury levels


Several Connecticut residents eat the fish they catch in the state's rivers, lakes and oceans, but several fishing spots across the state are known for being contaminated with mercury.

"We have a mercury deposition problem in the northeast, in Connecticut," said Tom Metzner, environmental analyst for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Mercury, a heavy metal, can be toxic and high levels can have long-term health effects, including in extreme cases, attacking the central nervous system. The Department of Public Health officials said limiting exposure is important.

"The main way people get exposed to mercury is through eating fish," said Johan Varekamp, a professor of environmental science at Wesleyan University.

Every year, the Department of Public Health publishes an advisory for consumers. The consumption advisory chart includes a list of all the popular fishing spots, the fish that may be caught there and how often it is safe to eat the fish.

The abundance of mercury in Connecticut waters results from industries established years ago.

"I think our biggest discovery was the western part of Connecticut is severely polluted with mercury as a result of the historic hat making industry," Varekamp said.

Hats made in the 18th and 19th centuries were made using mercury. A quarter of all the hats made in the world during that time were manufactured in Connecticut.

Several other plants and industries created during the course of the state's history also left behind a legacy of mercury.

"What we call the legacy contaminant," Varekamp said. "It's from all the industries that don't exist anymore, but the stuff is still there. It doesn't go away."

Mercury also contaminates water through sources including sewage treatment facilities, coal burning plants and certain household products.

DEEP officials said mercury makes its way into the solid waste stream and into the water. They are always working to curb the problem.

"Part of that is mercury that comes from out-of-state, from other sources that are not within our control," Metzner said. "But we do have sources within the state that we can control."

The DEEP has supported legislation to ban certain products containing mercury in stores, which has shown positive results.

"We see dramatic reductions working with our northeast," Metzner said.

DEEP officials encourage residents to recycle mercury products that might be in their homes by taking the products to local hazardous waste collections.

"A very small amount is toxic," Metzner said. "A very small amount can contaminate a water body."

Despite warnings about mercury and the awareness about it being in the fish resident's catch, people don't need to cut fish completely out of their diets.

"If you eat fish once a week, that's OK," Varekamp said. "Fish that are low in mercury are even better."

A link to the Safe Consumption guide can be found here on our website.

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