In early June, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) released a report stating that 32 of Oklahoma’s lakes are contaminated with mercury. The report recommends that people limit their consumption of many types of fish, and some fish shouldn’t be eaten at all.
As someone who has enjoyed boating, swimming, and fishing in the lakes around Oklahoma, this is very concerning. While I’m a catch and release type of fisher, many around the state enjoy catching fish for consumption. Many of the popular lakes contain fish that are not safe for eating.
Where is the mercury coming from? The ODEQ says,
“Mercury is an element that is released to the atmosphere through man-made (mining, manufacturing processes, coal-fired utilities, or industries) or natural processes (volcanoes or weathering of rocks). It falls out of the air by sticking to dust particles or gets washed out by rain or snow and then runs off into streams and lakes.”
If more and more of our lakes are becoming polluted, are we regulating mercury enough? Something that is very scary about this is the fact that some of these lakes are also used for drinking water. While mercury in drinking water is regulated for cities, private wells could be contaminated. Depending on where the mercury is coming from, other water sources around the lakes could also be contaminated.
The ODEQ has released a booklet with information on which lakes are contaminated. It includes a guide for eating st fish. However, local news stations have interviewed fishermen and some have said it won’t change their habits — they just aren’t worried about it. Some fishermen state that they haven’t had any issues, so they are going to keep eating the fish they catch. However, mercury poisoning isn’t something you often know you have unless you test for it. Mercury is a neurotoxin and the symptoms can be vague, which makes it hard to diagnosis. This is worrisome and especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.
Since many people feed their families and their businesses from the fish in Oklahoma lakes, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to keep the EPA strong and focused on regulating toxic substances such as mercury.
For a list of the lakes that are contaminated visit Green Oklahoma, and for details on which fish are safe and how much you can eat, check out the ODEQ’s 2013 Mercury in Fish booklet and this handy Seafood Selector guide from EDF.