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Low Fish Consumption Justifies Higher Mercury Levels, West Virginia DEP Study Says

The DEP's study shows that West Virginians consume less fish than the national average, and the agency is using the results to say mercury levels in West Virginia's waterways can be higher than the federal EPA recommends.

The Clean Water Act recommends that mercury not exceed 0.3 micrograms per gram of fish tissue.

West Virginia's standards are less stringent-0.5 micrograms per gram.

But that's okay, the DEP says, because a study conducted in November showed that West Virginians actually eat less fish than the national average.

Mike Arcuri is an environmental resources analyst with DEP's water quality standards program.

"The more fish people consume in a given area, the lower that number has to be in order to keep the public safe, if that makes any sense," he said. "And then if people are consuming lower numbers of fish, that number in the fish tissue can be a little bit higher because they're not taking as much in."

Mercury is a naturally-occurring element that's found in air, water and soil. At high levels, mercury can harm the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system.

Coal-fired power plants were the source of almost three-fourths of West Virginia's mercury air emissions in 2003, according to a study by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Arcuri says the most likely source of mercury exposure however comes from eating fish. 

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