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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Pleasant news

Yes, we are all Mad Hatters now

E.P.A. Says Mercury Taints Fish Across U.S.
The federal environmental agency's latest annual survey of fish advisories showed that 48 states - all but Wyoming and Alaska - issued warnings about mercury last year. [New York Times: National]

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Tuesday that fish in virtually all of the nation's lakes and rivers were contaminated with mercury, a highly toxic metal that poses health risks for pregnant women and young children.

Michael O. Leavitt, the E.P.A. administrator, drew his conclusion from the agency's latest annual survey of fish advisories, which showed that 48 states - all but Wyoming and Alaska - issued warnings about mercury last year. That compared with 44 states in 1993, when the surveys were first conducted.

The latest survey also shows that 19 states, including New York, have now put all their lakes and rivers under a statewide advisory for fish consumption. But Mr. Leavitt said that the widespread presence of mercury reflected a surge in monitoring - not an increase in emissions - as part of growing state efforts to warn local anglers about the fish they are catching. Last year, states issued 3,094 advisories for toxic substances, compared with 1,233 in 1993.

"Mercury is everywhere," Mr. Leavitt said at a news conference in his office. "The more waters we monitor, the more we find mercury. Monitoring is up and will continue to go up. But emissions are down and will continue to go down."

The latest survey represents monitoring from 35 percent of the nation's lakes, more than 100,000 of them; 24 percent of total river miles, nearly 850,000 miles; 75 percent of coastal waters; and all of the Great Lakes.

But environmentalists, as well as President Bush's Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, have attacked the Bush administration's proposed standards as weak and unnecessarily drawn out. The administration has proposed reducing emissions 29 percent by 2010 and 69 percent by 2018.

Emily Figdor, a policy analyst for Clear the Air, a coalition of environmental groups, said, "The technology is available now to reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2008, as the Clean Air Act requires, but there is no indication that the administration is considering a stronger proposal."

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, accused the administration of "dragging its feet" by endorsing a weak plan.

A spokesman for Mr. Kerry accused the Bush administration of proposing standards that industry lobbyists helped write, a criticism the E.P.A. has denied, and said Mr. Kerry, as president, would support sharper reductions in a shorter period of time.

"With George Bush in the White House, you better think twice before you eat the fish you catch," said the spokesman, Phil Singer. "While the Bush administration has opted for a lobbyist-written approach to mercury emissions, John Kerry will go further faster and be more effective in ridding our lakes and rivers of poisons that threaten pregnant women and children.

Despite evidence that fish caught almost anywhere in the country is contaminated with mercury, Mr. Leavitt repeatedly urged reporters to consider the increasing number of advisories in the larger context of more aggressive actions by states in monitoring and by the administration in moving toward new regulations.


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