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Connecticut River Fish May Pose Health Risk



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Connecticut River Fish May Pose Health Risk

LONGMEADOW, MASS. (AP) — Connecticut River fish contain mercury levels that could be dangerous to human health and the birds that feed on the fish, according to a federal report issued this week.

While the four states along the river — New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut — have in the past conducted individual tests on sections of the river, Monday’s report by the US Environmental Protection Agency is the first federal study of fish health along the Connecticut’s entire 410-mile stretch from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound.

“This report sets a nice baseline for the future, so we’ll be able to see if we’re making progress in mercury reduction,” said Michael Kenyon, director of the EPA’s New England Regional laboratory.

The study was disclosed at a news conference in Longmeadow.

Massachusetts environmental officials have advised that the most at-risk fish eaters — infants, pregnant women and women who may become pregnant — not eat any fish from the river. Other states have issued advisories on how much fish those people should eat.

While mercury has no impact on the health and function of fish that carry it in their tissue, it could affect human neurological systems, especially among infants.

It also impairs the reproductive systems of birds, and environmental officials say they’re concerned about the long-term health of eagles, loons and kingfishers that feed on the mercury-tainted fish.

“The message is not that you shouldn’t eat any fish from the river,” Kenyon said. “It’s that you should eat fish smartly. What we’re really concerned about are fish caught by people who catch it regularly and eat it.”

The study, conducted in 2000, focused on yellow perch, smallmouth bass and white suckers. Most of the fishing done in the Connecticut is by recreational fishermen. There is no market for fish caught in the river.

The most contaminated parts of the river were the sections between Holyoke and Vernon, Vt. The cleanest stretch was between Holyoke and Haddam, Conn., according to the report.

Chelsea Gwyther, executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, said the overall health of the river has improved in the past several decades since toxic chemicals including PCBs and DDT have been banned.

“But we still do have a lot more to do,” she said. “This report demonstrates that what we put into our air and our water stays with us for a long time.”

Mr Kenyon said he’s advocating for the EPA to test mercury levels in the river’s fish every five years. He said the river’s mercury levels have dipped about 55 percent since the late 1990s thanks to controls placed on garbage incineration plants. Coal-burning is another significant source of mercury pollution, he said.

“The New England states have done some significant work in reducing emissions,” Kenyon said. “But the next big thing to target will be the coal-fired plants.”

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