May 24, 1997
caught in St. Johns have high mercury levels
JACKSONVILLE (AP) -- Bass caught in the St. Johns River
have high levels of mercury, in some cases higher than
state guidelines for human consumption, area water
In a study conducted by the St. Johns River Water
Management District, researchers found high mercury
levels in 18 of 31 fish taken from several areas of the
The results mirror circumstances in a number of other
Florida rivers, where people have been advised to cut
back or stop eating fish because of the dangers of
long-term medical problems caused by mercury.
Jeffrey Goldhagen, Duval County's public health
administrator, said he wanted more details to determine
whether his office should look into the matter.
"Yes, this is a public health issue," he said.
But those attending this weekend's eighth annual Blue
Crab Festival in Palatka, on the river south of
Jacksonville, apparently have nothing to fear.
The 15,000 pounds of blue crabs that will be consumed are
shipped in from throughout the Southeast and none came
from the St. Johns River, said Jami Thomas of the
Organized Fishermen of Florida. Most of the crabs, she
said, came from the Gulf of Mexico.
Mercury accumulates gradually in the bodies of people and
can cause nerve and brain damage, birth defects and
problems with vision or hearing.
Researchers tested the bass last year and early this year
to measure effects of some types of pollution in the
They found the highest concentrations in fish caught
around Rice Creek and Welaka, both in Putnam County. They
found less-elevated mercury levels in fish at the
Jacksonville-St. Johns County line and the lowest levels
were in fish near Green Cove Springs in Clay County.
The state warns people not to eat fish at all if mercury
levels are above 1.5-millionths of the fillet's weight.
Eighteen of the St. Johns fish had mercury above
0.5-millionth level, and four from Putnam County were
above the 1.5-millionth level.
John Higman, a water management district scientist who
ran the study in conjunction with the Florida Game and
Fresh Water Fish Commission and University of Florida
researchers, said state officials would need to test
larger numbers of fish before deciding on warnings about
eating fish from the river.
The reasons for the mercury presence are not entirely
clear, Higman said.
The metal has been used in many industries, including
factories that make bleach and paper.But Higman noted
that some rivers and lakes have high mercury levels even
though they are far removed from industry.
Mercury has been found in the livers of some dead
cormorants in Florida Bay and has also shown up in fish,
raccoons, birds, alligators and one panther in the
Everglades in the past several years.
Area residents who like to eat bass from popular fishing
spots in West Volusia needn't change their diets. The
fish are safe to eat, as far as mercury levels are
"We're fine," said Fred Cross, a fish biologist
at the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in
Tests on fish taken from the St. Johns River system have
shown levels to be well within the acceptable range in
most of Volusia County, he said. Slight amounts of
mercury are found in bass and all kinds of food because
mercury occurs naturally in soil, Cross said.
From Lake Harney north, including the DeLand area, bass
are perfectly safe to eat, he said. South of Lake Harney,
health officials have advised people to limit their
intake -- but they still can eat quite a lot of fish
without worrying, Cross said.
The recent St. Johns River Water Management District
study did not include Volusia County. It focused on the
overall health of the St. Johns River from its north end
at the Atlantic Ocean to its confluence with the Oklawaha
River in Putnam County.
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