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2003 National Listing of Fish Advisories Questions & Answers

 

What is the National Listing of Fish Advisories?
The National Listing of Advisories is a compilation of fish advisory information provided to EPA by States, tribes, territories, and local governments. The information is voluntarily submitted to EPA in an effort to provide a central repository of fish consumption advisories information for the U.S. EPA formats the data and makes the information available via the EPA website www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish.

What is an advisory?
If elevated concentrations of chemicals, such as mercury or dioxin, are found in local fish and certain water-dependant wildlife (such as ducks or turtles), then a state may issue health advice to the public in the form of a fish consumption advisory. A fish consumption advisory may include recommendations to limit or avoid eating certain fish species caught from specific waterbodies or, in some cases, from specific waterbody types (e.g., all lakes). An advisory may be issued for the general population, or for specific groups such as recreational and subsistence fishers, or for sensitive subpopulations such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children. A consumption advisory is not a regulation, but rather a voluntary recommendation issued to inform people.

What kind of information is included in the National Listing of Fish Advisories?
The National Listing of Fish Advisories database includes information on the geographic location of advisories, chemical contaminants causing advisories, the species of fish/wildlife affected, the type of advisory (such as no consumption or limited consumption), the population affected (such as women of childbearing age, children, general population), and web links to state and tribal advisory program contacts.

Does EPA analyze this data or does EPA require that the data be gathered in a specific way?
No. EPA simply provides as a service to the public a central "one-stop' repository for the convenience of the public. EPA has issued guidance that provides information for the states to assist in developing methods of monitoring, gathering and assessing information about their fish populations but it is not mandatory. The States have primary responsibility for these decisions. Thus the basis for each State fish advisory varies.

Can EPA draw conclusions or identify trends from this National Listing?
No. EPA's role is to provide a central repository. Each State determines the scope and extent of monitoring, how to decide which waters should be placed under advisory, etc., thus the information is highly variable and difficult to draw conclusions or trends.

Why have the number of advisories and the geographic extent of advisories steadily increased over the past 15 years?
EPA believes that the increase in advisories is primarily due to increased sampling of previously untested waters by states and tribes and not necessarily due to increased levels or frequency of contamination.

Why is there a dramatic increase in the number of river miles placed under an advisory during 2003?
The increase in the number of river miles placed under advisory in 2003 is due to new statewide mercury river advisories in three states: Washington, Montana, and Wisconsin. Statewide advisories are issued as a precautionary measure when fish monitoring data indicate widespread contamination has been detected in certain species of fish or certain types of waterbodies (e.g., rivers).

How does mercury, which is generally emitted in a gaseous elemental or ionic form, end up as methylmercury in the muscle tissue of fish?
The answer involves a number of complex physical and chemical processes that are not well understood. The cycling, fate, and chemical form of mercury in natural environments, its uptake by biota, its bioaccumulation in the food chain, and its occurrence in fish are all areas that require continued research.

What steps are being taken to reduce the mercury levels in fish, the leading cause of fish advisories?
US human-caused emissions of mercury to the air have fallen by more than 45% since passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. These amendments provided new authority to EPA to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants to the air. In 1990, more than two-thirds of U.S. human-caused mercury emissions came from just three source categories: coal fired power plants, municipal waste combustion and medical waste incineration.

Regulations were issued in the 1990s to control mercury emissions for burning waste. In addition actions to limit the use of mercury, most notably Congressional action to limit the use of mercury in batteries, and EPA regulatory limits on the use of mercury in paint contributed to the reduction of mercury emissions from waste combustion during the 1990s by reducing the mercury content of waste. More recent regulation, including limiting mercury emissions from chlorine production facilities that use mercury cells and regulation of industrial boilers, will further reduce emissions of mercury when they become effective in the next few years.

The largest single source of human-caused emissions in the US is coal-fired power plants. The Bush Administration is the first administration ever to propose a regulation to reduce these mercury emissions. We are on track to finalize this regulation, called the Clean Air Mercury Rule, on or before March 15, 2005.

About half of the mercury deposited in the US is from natural sources such as volcanoes and international sources such as coal use in Asia. The final Clean Air Mercury Rule will be one component of our overall effort to reduce mercury emissions.

Why has wildlife been dropped from the original name of the advisory database?
Since 1993, when this database was developed, states have focused the vast majority of their advisory activities on fish consumption advisories rather than the consumption of water-dependent wildlife. Today, water-dependent wildlife advisories represent less than one percent of the total number of advisories in the national database. Therefore, EPA believes that the new title better reflects the content of the advisory database. However, there are a few states that continue to provide advisories for the consumption of some water-dependent wildlife species, and this information is retained in the database.

For what pollutants are the advisories issued?
Most advisories involve five primary contaminants: mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT. These chemical contaminants persist for long periods in sediments where bottom-dwelling animals accumulate and pass them up the food chain to fish. Mercury, PCBs, chlordane, dioxins, and DDT were at least partly responsible for 98% of all fish consumption advisories in effect in 2003.

What about recent advice from EPA and FDA about mercury in fish?
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. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising 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. (from the FDA/EPA Advisory)
EPA's web site at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish.

Where can I get more information about fish advisories?
For more information about the National Listing of Fish Advisories and the advisories themselves, you can visit the EPA's website at www.epa.gov/waterscience/fish/ . For a more detailed analysis of the 2002 information, see our Technical Fact Sheet (PDF, 498kb, 6 pp., about this format). To find out how to select and prepare fish, read "A Guide to Healthy Eating of the Fish You Catch." For more information about reducing your health risks from eating fish you catch, contact the local or state health or environmental protection department. You can find the telephone number in the blue section of your local telephone directory. Or you can find the name and number of a state or local fish advisory contact at the website.


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