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Enviro-Mich message from ecaa@igc.org (ecology center)


December 17, 1997
Contacts: Tracey
Easthope 313-663-2400 x 109
          Dave Dempsey 517-487-9539

Michigan Consumers Warned Against Mercury Tainted Fish - Again
Action Needed to Halt Contamination

        Fish from more than 1,660 U.S. waterways are so contaminated with
mercury that they should not be eaten or eaten only in limited amounts.
Children or mothers-to-be are at highest risk, according to federal health
warnings analyzed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

        On the eve of a long-delayed mercury report to be issued by the
Environmental Protection Agency this week, the EWG has issued a report
summarizing the findings and calling for a real mercury reduction

        In Michigan, mercury warnings are posted for all inland lakes and
139 river miles, according to Catching the Limit, an EWG study that lists
all fish advisories due to mercury contamination in 37 states.   According
to the study, recreational fishing contributes at least $535 million to
Michigan's economy.  The study was released today, as the EPA prepares to
send Congress their alarming report estimating that more than 1.6 million
women and children may face serious health risks from mercury contaminated
fish and shellfish.

        But you don't have to eat locally-caught fish to be concerned about
mercury.  The report summarizes EPA data which finds mercury is on the
supermarket shelves in many fish, fish products and other foods.  The EPA
report also says that eating just a half can of tuna a day could exceed
safe levels for mercury exposure.

        Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, attacking the body's central
nervous system, brain, kidneys and lungs.  It is especially dangerous to
children, pregnant women and even women who are contemplating becoming
mothers.  Mercury can cause harm to developing fetuses months after the
mother is exposed.

        "The solution is not to continually restrict our diets," said
Tracey Easthope, MPH, of the Ecology Center.  "Instead, we've got to stop
contaminating our food supply."

        Coal-fired power plants and incineration are the two major sources
of mercury pollution.  Coal-fired plants in the Great Lakes region have
failed to take any meaningful steps to reduce mercury emissions.

        "Mercury is a health threat to kids that we know how to solve.
Stricter controls on power plants,  and medical waste incinerators, and the
phase out of mercury from many current uses, will pay huge dividends in
public health protection and enhance Michigan's inland fisheries and our
tourism industry.  What is lacking is the political will to do what's right
for our environment and economy," said Dave Dempsey of the Michigan
Environmental Council.

        The incineration of both solid and hospital waste are the second
and third largest sources of mercury in Michigan.  Both of these sources
are unnecessary.  There are alternatives to virtually all uses of mercury
today, and a strong separation program could eliminate the remainder in the
waste stream.

        Hospitals typically incinerate as much as 100 percent of their
waste.  But mercury from broken thermometers, blood pressure devices, used
batteries, feeding tubes and dilators is not destroyed by incineration,
instead, it is released into the atmosphere.  When it settles into the
water and sediments, fish accumulate mercury into their muscle tissue.
Medical facilities can eliminate mercury most cost-effectively by
separating mercury containing devices from the waste stream and by
switching to readily available alternative devices that do not contain
mercury.  Recent EPA regulations do little to solve the problem and do not
require separation of mercury from incinerated wastes.

        "We are alarmed by this report, because again it appears that
communities like Detroit are disproportionately effected,"  said Donele
Wilkins, Executive Director, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.
"We are also saddened to learn that our institutions of healing are such an
important and preventable source of mercury."

        A number of medical facilities have already initiated aggressive
mercury phaseout programs including Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.
It is important for other hospitals to follow suit and to eliminate as much
mercury as possible, and to seek alternatives to incineration.

Ecology Center of Ann Arbor
117 N. Division
Ann Arbor, MI  48104
(313)663-2400 or (313)761-3186(ph)

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