Most U.S. Lakes and Waterways Contaminated with Mercury, EPA Says

U.S. EPA head honcho Mike Leavitt struggled yesterday to put a positive spin on the agency’s annual report on fish advisories, despite the grim news that virtually every body of freshwater in the country may be contaminated with mercury, which poses health risks to fetuses and children. Every state except Alaska and Wyoming issued warnings about mercury-contaminated fish last year. More than a third of America’s lakes and almost a quarter of its miles of rivers are officially covered by fish advisories, but as Leavitt acknowledged, “Mercury is everywhere.” The EPA attributes the increase in advisories to better monitoring, not worse pollution, noting that mercury pollution actually declined between 1990 and 1999 (the last year for which figures were available). The report is already adding fuel to the debate over the EPA’s forthcoming mercury regulations, expected to be based on a cap-and-trade system that enviros say would be weak and too slow to produce results.