STATESBORO — Last week the Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization released the results of a fish collection to test for mercury levels in area streams. The report, titled "Protect Yourself and Your Family from Mercury Pollution," provides critical information on the levels of mercury in area fish. Mercury is a toxic pollutant that can cause birth defects and other problems in developing babies and young children if their mothers eat the contaminated fish.
"Releasing this report in time for Mother’s Day was really important to us," said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Chandra Brown. "I know how stressful it can be to try to make the right decisions for the health and safety of my family. We saw this report as a little gift to help moms make safer choices when choosing what seafood and fish to feed their family."
This report is designed to educate people about the dangers of eating mercury contaminated fish and seafood and the existing levels of mercury in fish in the rivers and along the coast. The report also includes tips for making smarter choices to reduce exposure to mercury in fish and ways to get involved to reduce mercury pollution.
"Ninety-nine percent of the mercury in the Ogeechee River system comes from air pollution," Brown said. "The vast majority of the mercury released to our air comes from coal fired power plants. The best thing we can do to reduce the amount of mercury in the fish and on our families’ dinner tables is to reduce our electricity usage."
Last fall, dozens of volunteer fishermen and women took to the Ogeechee, Canoochee and coastal area streams to catch fish and have them tested for mercury. More than 60 fish were collected and sent to a University of Georgia laboratory to monitor the mercury levels.
The results of the study closely mirror the recommendations for the state. The largemouth bass and larger fish collected from the Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers had mercury levels high enough to trigger a recommendation to only eat them once a month. This recommendation means that if you eat large fish from the Ogeechee or Canoochee rivers, you should not eat any other fish for a month. Smaller fish, such as small catfish and redbreast, fared better with the levels triggering a recommendation to restrict eating those fish to one meal a week or less.
Of the fish caught along in-shore coastal waters, the mercury levels were much lower than those found in the Ogeechee and Canoochee rivers. However, every fish collected had mercury in it. As a result, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper recommends limiting the consumption of sea trout and whiting to no more than one meal a week, particularly for the most vulnerable populations: women of childbearing years and young children.
The full report, along with more tips and ways to reduce your electricity usage, are available for free at www.mercury-free-families.com.