Will My Children Ever Be Able To Eat Fish From The Lake?

BY ON August 29, 2011

This is a Guest Post from Laura Michelle Burns:

 Laura Michelle BurnsAs a mom living in the Great Lakes Region, I’m exposed to Republican candidates here in Ohio vying for positions of leadership that would allow them to make changes to our budget in such a way that will limit and even put an end to EPA’s regulations. As a Republican myself, and someone who understands the importance of a budget, I am all about saving money! However, when it comes to the safety of my children, this is an area I won’t cut corners. Listening to the promises of our candidates to revitalize our state’s budget, I’ve realized that someone needs to speak up and defend the regulations that protect our Lake.

Since I grew up spending my summers visiting the Lake, sailing, swimming, playing in the sand, and enjoying fantastic fresh Walleye and Perch caught that morning, I’m especially eager for my children to create happy memories on our waters too. But, I remember the day I stood on the beach and looked out over the horizon and watched the factories belch into the sky. I realized that what goes up into the air, must come down. When all that smoke came down, it went straight into Lake Erie. The very Lake that provided the summer fish dinners we all looked forward to. On that same day, I counted the dead fish that washed up on the beach and determined I wouldn’t be putting that fish in my body any more, no matter how fresh it claimed to be.

My brother Chris fishing on Lake Erie.

Fast forward 15 years and I have made a commitment to eat foods that have been produced within my state. At first, the diet was fantastic and I felt so refreshed. Then I realized one day, during a craving for a tuna sandwich that I wasn’t eating anything in the fish category. Images of those dead perch haunted my mind. So I decided to do some research.

According to the EPA, mercury concentrations in Walleye have remained fairly steady since the 1980s. The polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations however have fluctuated in the years since the 1970’s, as more laws about waste handling have been put into place.

Regardless of the laws and regulatory acts that are working their way in and helping to clean up the waters, Lake Erie still possesses a legacy of contaminated sediments that will be with us for years to come. As a result, the bioaccumulation of toxins such as organochlorines and metals has spread up the food chain from the amphibians, to fish and finally to mammals. The Great Lake Commission through the program Human Health and the Great Lakes explains this concern:

“These chemicals do not break down easily, persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate in aquatic biota, animal and human tissue; thus they are called persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBTs). Organochlorines tend to accumulate in fat (such as adipose tissue and breast milk), and metals tend to accumulate in organs, muscle and flesh. Food is the primary route of human exposure to these PBT chemicals, and consumption of Great Lakes fish is the most important source of exposure originating directly from the lakes.”

This produces a conundrum for those in the region who wish to eat as locally as possible. In my case, you can’t get too much more local than fish in the morning from Lake Erie showing up in my butcher’s case that afternoon to be used for supper. But, what I don’t want as a side to my fish and chips are the extra pollutants and health hazards.

There are a few choices: make exceptions to your local diet, or start to hunt.

Finding locally sourced fish is a challenge. In the end, I found a farm half an hour away from my home that raised shrimp. They actually invited me to come and help with the harvest a few years ago. I’ve found a few farms in the state that raise their own fish, but since they are a 2-3 hour drive from my home, I have yet to try them. It’s odd to say that in the state of Ohio, it’s easier for me to enjoy locally raised shrimp than it is to have a plate of perch that wasn’t steeped in waters tainted with factory runoff. But, it’s true.

For my family, eating locally has become a lifestyle out of a challenge. That challenge forced me to look around at my food sources and really learn about them. The realization that the fish from the Lake wasn’t pure many years ago is still the same. It saddens me that I won’t be taking my children to the Lake for fish dinners like I once enjoyed. I do wish that I could support the local fishermen in their attempts to provide for their families. But in the end, my desire to eat as local as I can is trumped by my desire to keep toxins out of my children’s bodies.

Please JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE and clean up the power plants so my children can enjoy happy memories on the Lake!

Thank you, Laura!

TOPICS: Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution