RESTRICTIONS ON EATING WV'S POLLUTED FISH - Selenium Added To Mercury Toxicity

(02/12/2008)

LITTLE KANAWHA RIVER WARNING

Following several years of warning West Virginia residents to restrict their consumption of fish caught in many of the state's waterways because of mercury content, now comes problems with selenium.

The state Bureau for Public Health has recommended that anglers limit themselves to one meal per month of any sport fish caught from Mount Storm Lake in Grant County, Upper Mud Lake in Lincoln County and Pinnacle Creek in Wyoming County.

More streams are expected to be added to the selenium list.

West Virginia has a long list of fish consumption advisories related to mercury contamination, including the Little Kanawha River and most regional streams.

The LK advisory says no more than one fish should be eaten each month.

The state has now made its consumption advisory for rock bass no more than two meals per month statewide because of high levels of mercury.

The list limits the consumption of black bass less than twelve inches in length from Sutton Lake to one meal a month because of mercury.

Mercury contamination could cause a problem for individuals if too many fish are consumed.

TROUBLING LEVELS OF SELENIUM

A broad federal government study in 2003 of mountaintop removal coal mining found repeated violations of water quality limits for selenium in the water downstream from mining operations.

In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produced its own report, finding troubling levels of selenium in fish downstream from mountaintop removal mines.

After the federal reports linking selenium to mountaintop removal, coal industry lobbyists tried so far unsuccessfully to persuade lawmakers and the DEP to relax West Virginia's water quality rules for selenium.

The Manchin administration moved to give nearly 100 coal operators three more years to fix violations of the state's selenium limits discovered in the 2003 federal study.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have appealed that action to the state Environmental Quality Board.

Joe Lovett, a lawyer for the citizen groups, praised state officials for adding the selenium warnings to West Virginia's fish advisories, saying, "DEP has been ignoring this problem until now. I'm glad that the state is finally taking this seriously, and appears to be taking the first steps to correct it."

LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST HOBET FOR DUMPING

Environmental lawyers say the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is failing to limit how much selenium is dumped into tributaries of the Mud River.

Now, lawyers Derek Teaney and Joe Lovett filed a lawsuit against Hobet Mining, charging that its Boone County operations were in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The suit was filed on behalf of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

They believe the DEP has failed to protect the public, and a judge should let citizens seek their own injunction against the coal company.

Randy Huffman, director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, says he doesn't know why his agency hasn't moved forward in its lawsuit against Hobet, but he's now instructed agency lawyers to pick up the pace.