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AUGUST 3, 2004
Emily Figdor or Liz Hitchcock, 202-546-9707
EPA Study Finds Mercury in Every Fish Sample from America’s Lakes: Controversial Bush Plan Would Delay Cleanup for at least 10 Years

WASHINGTON - August 3 - In recent U.S. EPA tests of fish caught from America’s lakes, every fish sample tested was contaminated with mercury, 55 percent contained mercury levels that exceed EPA’s “safe” limit for women of childbearing age, and 76 percent exceeded the safe limit for children under age three, according to a new Clear the Air report released today.

“Reel Danger: Power Plant Mercury Emissions and the Fish We Eat” comes as the Bush administration prepares to finalize a highly controversial proposal to delay meaningful reductions in mercury emissions from power plants until at least 2018. The Clean Air Act calls for the maximum achievable reductions of such emissions by 2008. The Bush plan, which was written at least in part by utility industry lobbyists, has sparked unprecedented public opposition and a nationwide call for strong and timely protections from power plant mercury emissions.

“Eating mercury-contaminated fish can affect the way young children think, learn, and grow,” stated Emily Figdor, author of the report and policy analyst for Clear the Air. “More than half of the fish samples EPA tested were unsafe to eat for women in their childbearing years. We simply cannot wait 10 years for energy companies to make mercury reductions that they can make today,” she continued.

Power plants are the single largest source of mercury emissions, contributing 41 percent of U.S. mercury emissions. Other industrial sources have reduced their mercury emissions by more than 90 percent within a few short years, but power plants continue to emit unlimited amounts of mercury into the air.

“Clean air and clean water are absolutely critical to our health,” stated Clear the Air Director Angela Ledford. “The mercury reductions in the Bush administration’s plan are too little, too late. The Administration should require power companies to meet the same standard that every other industry has met,” she said.

Mercury is toxic to the developing brain, and exposure in the womb can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays, and other serious health problems in children. EPA estimates that one in six U.S. women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put her child at risk. Eating contaminated fish is the primary way people are exposed to mercury.

Power plants released 90,370 pounds of mercury into the air in 2002, the most recent year for which EPA data are available. Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois lead the nation for the highest power plant mercury emissions.

The technology is available to reduce power plant mercury emissions by at least 90 percent.

“Reel Danger” is based on the first available data from EPA’s ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue. From 1999-2001, EPA collected approximately two composite samples of one predator fish species and one bottom-dwelling fish species at 260 lakes, for a total of 520 composite samples, or 2,547 fish.

Key findings include the following:

All of the fish samples EPA tested nationwide were contaminated with mercury.

Nationwide, 55 percent of the fish samples exceeded the safe mercury limit for women of average weight who eat fish twice a week and 76 percent exceeded the safe limit for children of average weight under age three who eat fish twice a week.

Predator fish, including smallmouth bass, walleye, largemouth bass, lake trout, and Northern pike, had the highest average mercury concentrations.

“Mercury pollution is pervasive in America’s lakes. These results underscore the need to reduce mercury emissions from power plants as much and as quickly as possible,” said Figdor. “Delaying action for at least 10 years will unnecessarily expose an entire generation of children to toxic mercury pollution,” she concluded.

Clear the Air is a joint campaign of the Clean Air Task Force, National Environmental Trust, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group

The full report, Reel Danger: Power Plant Mercury Emissions and the Fish We Eat, can be downloaded at


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