MAC: Mines and Communities

Mercury Levels Still High in Virginia River Fish

Published by MAC on 2006-03-08

Mercury Levels Still High in Virginia River Fish

by ENS, RICHMOND, Virginia

8th March 2006

The amount of mercury in fish collected in 2005 from the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River has not changed significantly since 2002, according to a report issued today by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Many fish species continue to have mercury levels of 0.5 parts per million or higher, which is the action level set by the Virginia Department of Health.

“The health of the South and South Fork Shenandoah rivers is vitally important to Virginia, and DEQ is dedicated to ensuring that people’s exposure to mercury is as low as possible,” DEQ Director David Paylor said. “The good news is that stocked trout from the South River are still safe to eat.”

Mercury levels in rainbow trout stocked in the South River in fall 2004 are no higher than 0.1 ppm, and these trout remain below the level of concern.

Mercury was used by Du Pont Co. in Waynesboro in fiber production between 1929 and 1950. Mercury contamination in the South River was discovered in the 1970s and now extends to the South Fork Shenandoah River.

In a settlement between Du Pont and the State Water Control Board in 1984, Du Pont established a trust fund to support a 100 year monitoring program for mercury. DEQ manages the fund.

Most of the fish with elevated mercury had averages ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 parts per million, the agency reports. Mercury levels are highest in the South River between Dooms in Augusta County and Grottoes in Rockingham County where mercury averages ranged from 1.36 to 2.66 ppm.

DEQ collected smallmouth bass, white sucker and redbreast sunfish at collection stations along the South River, South Fork Shenandoah River and the Shenandoah River in spring 2005. The agency also collected stocked rainbow trout near Waynesboro and Grottoes along the South River.

The existing fish consumption advisories from the Virginia Department of Health remain unchanged. Only stocked trout should be eaten from the South River.

From Port Republic to Front Royal, no more than two meals per month of fish should be eaten from the South Fork Shenandoah. North of Front Royal, carp, channel catfish and white sucker from the South Fork Shenandoah and Shenandoah rivers should not be eaten due to a PCB advisory, and no more than two meals per month of other species should be eaten.

DEQ monitors mercury contamination in collaboration with the South River Science Team, of which DEQ is a member. This group’s long-term goal is to manage and reduce the risk from mercury in the river. DEQ will sample fish tissue, water quality and sediments from the South, South Fork and Shenandoah rivers in 2007 during the next phase of its extensive mercury monitoring effort.

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