A new study from North Carolina State University finds that fish located near coal-fired power plants have lower levels of mercury than fish that live much further away. The surprising finding appears to be linked to high levels of another chemical, selenium, found near such facilities, which unfortunately poses problems of its own.
"We found that fish in lakes located at least 30 kilometers (km) from a coal-fired power plant had mercury levels more than three times higher than fish of the same species in lakes that are within 10 km of a plant," says Dana Sackett, a Ph.D. student at NC State and the lead author of a paper describing the study. "This information will inform health and wildlife officials who make determinations about fish consumption advisories and wildlife management decisions."
The findings are surprising because coal-fired power plants are the leading source of mercury air emissions globally, and a significant amount of that mercury is expected to settle out of the air within 10 km of a plant's smokestacks. Mercury is a bioaccumulative toxin that builds up in animal tissues including fish and can pose public health problems related to fish consumption.
The researchers examined largemouth bass and bluegill from 14 freshwater lakes seven within 10 km of a plant and seven that were a minimum of 30 km from a plant. The species were chosen because they are commonly caught and eaten by recreational anglers, and because they represent two very different places in the food chain. Largemouth bass are apex predators at the top of the food chain, which consume smaller fish. As a result, since mercury builds up in the food chain, they would be expected to show higher levels of mercury. Bluegill are smaller fish that primarily dine on invertebrates, such as insects, and would be expected to show lower levels of mercury.
The researchers found that the mercury levels went up more than threefold in both species a
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University