|By Bob Weaver|
While West Virginia's EPA is looking at reducing water quality standards with many of the state's fishing streams, they have announced their agency allows more mercury in fish than the federal government recommends.
The agency says because West Virginians eat less fish than the national average, they figure they're at less risk, meaning lowering the standards.
Critics say the agency is using twisted logic.
"If people consume fewer fish, it's only because the fish are poisoned," says Janice Nease of Coal River Mountain Watch.
While there is plenty of evidence ingesting Mercury-laden fish is dangerous, the EPA has advised fishermen and fish eaters for several years they ought not eat more than one or two meals of fish a month from the Ohio River, the Little Kanawha and most state rivers and lakes.
Lorelei Scarbro with Coal River Mountain Watch says, "Poisoned streams have changed coalfield residents' way of life ...
It's a shame that we can't take our children and our grandchildren down to the river, teach them how to fish and then also teach them that if you catch that fish what you do is you consume it, you eat it."
Scarbro says West Virginians are so used to pollution, it is now part of cultural acceptance.
At high levels, mercury can damage the brain and other vital organs.
The federal Clean Water Act recommends mercury not exceed 0.3 micrograms per gram of fish tissue.
West Virginia allows 0.5 micrograms.
Coal-fired power plants were the source of almost three-fourths of West Virginia's mercury air emissions in 2003, according to a study by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Studies have found that coal slurry, the liquid that results after washing coal, contains heavy metals including mercury. Coalfield residents say this slurry has contaminated their groundwater and found its way into streams and rivers.
A consumption advisory was issued earlier this year for black bass, walleye and flathead catfish caught at Summersville Lake because of too much mercury found in the fish.
Ohio River Has Many Pollution Problems
The Ohio River's pollution is still at a level that threatens aquatic life, with fish containing so much poison that they are generally considered inedible.
It has been such a long-standing problem, most citizens are not aroused about the issue.
Faced with a lawsuit over mercury releases, the PPG Natrium plant along the Ohio, says it has been working on cutting emissions.
The West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Washington, D.C.-based group Oceana, filed an intent to bring suit against the company.
The 981-mile Ohio River has serious pollution problems.
West Virginia is cooperating with five other states and the federal government to try and clean up about 475 miles of the Ohio.
That part of the river is sometimes unfit for swimming because of sewage.
An analysis of more than 14,000 samples taken from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, revealed high fecal counts following heavy rains.
Additionally, the great river has other pollution problems, including Mercury, which has led to the restricted eating of fish.