Mercury contamination standards debated

April 21, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Maryland's standards on mercury contamination in fish are too lax and could endanger the health of unborn children, an advocacy group said yesterday.

State officials said Maryland Public Interest Research Group(MaryPIRG) has incorrectly applied its data to other states' standards.

Mercury, which can cause birth defects, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and a lack of coordination, is released into the atmosphere by power plants, municipal waste incinerators, medical waste incinerators and cement plants. It falls into the water, where it is ingested by by fish.

The state Department of the Environment issues health advisories against eating certain fish when 1.0 parts per million of mercury show up in tissue samples.

That threshold is too high and should be more in line with Delaware's, Kim Erickson, coordinator of MaryPIRG's mercury campaign, said at a news conference. If it were, Maryland would have issued 62 fish consumption advisories from 1985 to 1997. It issued no advisories during that period.

"The Maryland Department of the Environment is not adequately protecting public health," Erickson said.

MaryPIRG has taken "bits and pieces of information of how Delaware does its risk assessment and how we do ours and taken them out of context," said Kevin Novogravac of the MDE.

"We got into our own database and used Delaware's numbers, and we still wouldn't have issued advisories."

Rick Greene, with Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said his state's standards are more conservative than Maryland's but are similar.

"In fact, Maryland and Delaware are more conservative than others," Greene said.

Erickson said she knows of no problem with Maryland seafood but that residents should have the right to know of possible mercury contamination in the fish they buy.

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