July 20, 2017 – This week, the US EPA approved new statewide water quality objectives for mercury in California. The objectives were developed by the State Water Resources Control Board and aim to limit mercury in fish tissue to protect human health and that of fish-consuming wildlife. These rules call attention to the public health risk of eating mercury contaminated fish, and the need for continued outreach and education on the subject, a role local nonprofit The Sierra Fund has filled for many years.
In two weeks, The Sierra Fund will host their third annual Post It Day volunteer event to post state-issued fish consumption advisories at regional lakes and reservoirs. The advisories, issued by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) offer safe eating guidelines for different species of fish based on contaminant levels in fish tissue, including mercury.
On Saturday, August 5, 2017, teams of volunteers will venture to regional water bodies from Donner Lake in Truckee to Lake Clementine in Auburn to check up on fish consumption advisories posted over the last two years of the project, and to post in Spanish for the first time.
TSF CEO Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin is excited to post advisories in two languages, noting “Each year we cast a wider net on the audience receiving this important public health information. In 2015 we posted the advisories for the first time at nearly 30 lakes and reservoirs. In 2016 we held a free educational event geared towards families, especially women and children who are more susceptible to the health impacts of mercury. This year we are addressing regional environmental justice issues by posting advisories in Spanish.”
Posting fish consumption advisories is just one facet of TSF’s work around mercury in fish. The organization has surveyed hundreds of anglers in the region to learn more about which fish are being consumed and in what quantities, and to understand if posting fish consumption advisories is an effective way to change angler behavior. Additionally, TSF has caught over 200 fish to test for mercury, with the goal of filling data gaps for OEHHA to issue site-specific fish consumption advisories.
Mercury in the Sierra Nevada is a legacy of the California Gold Rush, during which time millions of pounds were brought to the region to improve gold recovery. Much of that mercury was lost to the environment, washing into streams and rivers where bacteria convert elemental mercury into a different form called methylmercury. Methylmercury is bioavailable and can enter the food web, impacting fish and the humans who consume them. Eating mercury-contaminated fish is the primary human exposure pathway to mercury.
The Sierra Fund commends the State Water Board and the US EPA for passing protective limits on mercury in fish, and is committed to engaging and educating the public around this issue. To get involved, including volunteering to post fish consumption advisories on Saturday, August 5, 2017, contact TSF Outreach Coordinator Kelsey Westfall, (530) 265-8454 x217, [email protected].
For more information about fish consumption advisories visit https://oehha.ca.gov/fish