For the 12th straight year, EPA has released its summary of information on locally issued fish advisories and safe-eating guidelines, based on extensive water testing.
This information is provided to EPA annually by states, territories and tribes, and is made easily accessible to the public each summer.
States monitor their waters by sampling fish tissue for long-lasting pollutants that bioaccumulate. The states then issue their advisories and guidelines voluntarily and have flexibility in what criteria they use and how the data are collected.
As a result, there are significant variations in the numbers of waters tested, the pollutants tested for and the threshold for issuing advisories.
Based on self-reporting, the national trend is for states to monitor different waters each year, generally without retesting waters monitored in previous years.
The number of fish advisories is increasing even as emissions for major pollutants are decreasing and as pollutants such as DDT and chlordane are banned in the United States. In 2003, 48 states, the District of Columbia and American Samoa issued 3,094 fish advisories, 280 more than the previous year.
With these additions, 35 percent of the total lake acres and 24 percent of the river miles in the nation are now under advisory. Since 2002, the number of lake acres under an advisory increased by two percent, river miles by nine percent and coastline by four percent.
A large part of the increase in lake acres and river miles under advisory occurred because Montana and Washington issued statewide advisories for all their lakes and rivers in 2003 and Hawaii issued a statewide advisory for its entire coastline.
States issue fish consumption advisories if elevated concentrations of chemicals such as mercury or dioxin are found in local fish. As new waters are tested and results added to previous years findings, the number of fish advisories continues to rise. Most of the new fishing advisories involve mercury despite the fact that U.S. emissions of mercury have declined by almost 50 percent since 1990.
"More and more of our waters are being tested, and thats protective for children and pregnant women, said Administrator Mike Leavitt. "Emissions are down, and emissions will continue to go down as the Bush Administration takes the first-ever steps to regulate mercury from coal-fired power plants."
For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system.
Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA recently advised women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
Human-caused mercury emissions in this country have dropped 50 percent since 1990, and the Bush Administration is in the process of regulating mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants for the first time in our nations history. The final rule, which will be promulgated by March 15, 2005, will be one component of the Agencys overall effort to reduce mercury emissions domestically and internationally.
State-issued advisories apply primarily to non-commercial fish and shellfish obtained through sport, recreation and subsistence activities. Each advisory is different: it may recommend unrestricted, limited or totally restricted consumption; may be targeted to everyone or limited to women, children or other people at risk; and may apply to certain species or sizes of fish or a specific water body.
States issue advisories for any of 40 different pollutants. Most advisories (98 percent) involve five bioaccumulative contaminants: PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, DDT and mercury.
In addition to steps to reduce mercury emissions, actions have or are being taken to address other pollutants of concern: production of PCBs for use ceased in 1977, chlordane was banned in 1988, DDT was banned in 1972 and dioxin emissions have been dramatically reduced.
States may issue safe-eating guidelines in addition to issuing fish advisories. A fish advisory is issued to warn the public of the potential human health risks from chemical contamination of certain species from particular types of waterbodies such as lakes, rivers and/ or coastal waters within the state.
In contrast, a safe-eating guideline is issued to inform the public that fish from specific waterbodies have been tested for chemical contaminants, and the fish from these waters are safe to eat without consumption restrictions.
The number of safe-eating guidelines nearly doubled in 2002 (164 were added) and increased a further 14 percent (47 were added) in 2003. The number of guidelines is likely to continue to grow as additional states identify safe fishing waters in future years.