News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 13, 2006

Illinois agency says fish in Wabash River high in mercury

The Wabash River has been added to a list of bodies of water in Illinois with a fish consumption advisory because of mercury levels.

The Illinois Department of Public Health added the river and its tributaries to its list of 15 such rivers and lakes in Illinois, said Melaney Arnold, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Beginning in southern Vigo County, the Wabash River separates the boundaries of Indiana and Illinois as it runs south along Clark and Crawford counties and beyond.

Women of childbearing age, children 15 and under, pregnant women, fetuses and nursing mothers should limit sauger larger than 12 inches from the Wabash River and tributaries to one meal per month. Other fish in the Wabash River should be limited to one meal per week for those who are not on the sensitive list because of the elevated levels of methylmercury, she said.

“Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and it can be released into the air through industrial pollution,” according to the Illinois Health Department advisory. “When it falls into surface water, bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform the mercury into methylmercury, which is then taken up by fish as they feed on aquatic organisms.”

Indiana State Conservation Office Kent Hutchins said similar advisories are in effect in Indiana. He said consumption advisories about fish taken from the entire length of the Wabash River are noted in the Department of Natural Resources fishing regulations.

“The fish have contaminants and heavy metals which include mercury,” he said. “The Indiana Public Health Department tests the waterways on a regular schedule.”

For the most part, Illinois anglers won’t change their fishing habits because of the advisory, said Mike Mounce, district fish biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He said a few fishermen will be more selective in what they harvest.

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