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Release Date: 06/11/96
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U.S. EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner today released two new

assessments that underscore the challenge of protecting America's


According to the latest update, fish-consumption warnings-- official state advisories to the public to avoid or limit eating fish -- increased by 14 percent in 1995. And, a new report from EPA, designed to be the first "data baseline" ever for measuring future progress in water quality, finds, in part, that 10 million Americans are presently at risk from exposure to the contaminant cryptosporidium.

Browner said, "Protecting the quality of our nation's water -- whether for drinking or fishing -- is one of our highest priorities. These reports are two tools that will help us provide information to the public and protect public health.

"The major concern regarding the new fish advisories update," she said, "is the number of advisories posted due to contamination from chemicals like mercury, which is responsible for more fish-consumption advisories than any other contaminant.

"That is why," Browner added, "under this Administration EPA has taken the most aggressive actions ever taken to sharply limit mercury and other contaminants from their primary source, incinerators, where they can then be wind swept into waterways and end up in the tissues of the fish we eat. Hopefully, in the future, the results of our actions will help reduce the number of bodies of water where mercury levels are presently too high."

Some 47 states now have some form of fish-consumption advisory. EPA believes that some of the increase in advisories is attributable this year to improved monitoring by the states.

The new report issued today by EPA is called, "Environmental Indicators of Water Quality in the United States," and is meant to establish, for the first time ever, a "baseline" to measure the effectiveness of future efforts to protect water quality.

Browner said, "The new data show, for instance, that although two million fewer people now are at risk from being exposed to cryptosporidium in their drinking water than two years ago, 10 million people are still at risk. We are making progress in protecting public health. Now, for the first time, we have a way to track that progress."

The new water quality indicators report finds, for example:

-- about 20 percent of all community drinking water systems receive their drinking water from a facility that violates a public health safety requirement;

-- nearly 10 million people remain at increased risk of exposure to microbial contaminants such as cryptosporidium because their drinking water is not adequately filtered -- down from 12 million two years ago;

-- nearly 70 million people receive their drinking water from a facility that violated the lead safety requirement at least once last year;

-- nearly one-third of community drinking water systems have initiated source protection programs to prevent pollution;

-- over 85 percent of water bodies have fish and shellfish safe for eating;

-- yet, over one-third of shellfishing beds are closed or under harvest restrictions;

-- over one-third of the sediment and fish tissue tested are contaminated with mercury, PCBs and other chemicals;

-- wetland losses continue to decline, yet 70,000 to 90,000 acres are still lost every year.

The number of water bodies under fish advisories rose by 209 in l995 to a total of 1,740, representing 15 percent of the nation's total lake acres and four percent of the nation's total river miles. All of the Great Lakes and large portions of the nation's coastal areas are under advisories.

Fish advisories are recommendations to limit consumption of certain species of fish taken from waters where chemical contaminants are present. Each advisory is different: they may recommend no consumption or limited consumption; may be targeted to men, women, and/or children; and/or may apply to certain species of fish.

Most of these advisories applied to non-commercial fishing. The populations with the highest potential of increased risk are those who routinely and exclusively eat freshwater fish from a single location or region that is known to be impacted by contamination. Consumers are urged to heed the advice of state and local health departments concerning local conditions. The fetuses of pregnant women are believed to be the most sensitive to the adverse effects of methylmercury. Other groups at potentially higher risk because they consume large quantities of fish include some Native Americans, some segments of the Asian-American community, and some low-income individuals who rely on fishing for food for their families. The typical U.S. consumer eating fish in moderation from a variety of sources and eating a variety of fish species is not believed to be at increased risk.

The advisories covered 46 chemical pollutants and multiple fish species. In addition to mercury contamination, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, a now-banned electrical insulator) led to 22 percent of the advisories, followed by the pesticide chlordane (seven percent); dioxin (three percent); the banned pesticide DDT (two percent); and approximately 41 other chemicals.

The largest source of the mercury contamination is air deposition. Sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. are ubiquitous and include natural mercury emissions, man-made emissions and previously emitted emissions that are still circulating in the environment. Significant sources of man-made emissions include power plants burning coal, incineration of wastes that contain mercury or mercury-containing products and industrial facilities that use mercury in their processes. Once released into the atmosphere, mercury can be deposited in waters around a facility or transported over long distances and deposited in water directly or through runoff. Once in the water, the mercury is converted to methylmercury. Methylmercury is highly toxic and accumulates in fish flesh.

Of the 47 states issuing fish consumption warnings; 10 issued state-wide advisories against eating fish from certain state waters: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan and Missouri. The remaining 37 states issued fish advisories for some 1400 additional bodies of water.

The general public can call state government agencies, in most cases the state health department, for specific state fish advisory information.

There is no written report summarizing the national listing of state fish advisories. However, a four-page fact sheet (EPA-823-F-96- 006) is available. The full "National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Consumption Advisories" is available to the public free of charge on five computer (PC-based, 3.5 inch) diskettes. The information contained in the database may be used to generate maps for specific geographic locations. The user also will find information on each body of water for which an advisory has been issued; the type of advisory, such as restricted consumption or bans, fish species and chemicals, population segments affected, issue dates; and state government agency contacts and phone numbers.

For copies of the diskettes and/or the fact sheet, the public can call or write EPA's National Center for Environmental Publications and Information, 11029 Kenwood Rd., Cincinnati, Ohio 45242, phone 513-489- 8190. The document number is EPA 823-C-96-011. The internet address for ordering is: EPA expects to have the full national listing of advisories on the Internet within the next month.

The "Environmental Indicators of Water Quality in the United States," developed as a baseline to measure water quality progress, was produced in collaboration with the States, Tribes and other public and private agencies: the Center for Marine Conservation; the Nature

Conservancy; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality.

Copies of the water quality indicators report are available by calling EPA's Water Resource Center at 202-260-7786; or by writing to EPA's Office of Water, Mail Code 4503F, Washington, D.C. 20460; or via Internet:

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