LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Students from UW La Crosse are studying the effects of Mercury on the great lakes region.
This five year project tracks mercury levels in fish and other life around in six national parks around the great lakes region. The research is done in collaboration with the UW-L River Studies Centers, students, and professors.
"You just kind of think, oh, it's just in a lake. It's just affecting fish." Says Greg Perrine, UW-La Crosse student and research assistant with the UW-L River Studies Center project, "but, you know, humans consume fish. So anything that's affecting fish will soon enough be affecting us."
Patrick Schulz is another UW-L student working as a research assistant with the project and days what he has learned on this project is relevant to his personal life. "I'm a fisherman. And I wasn't really aware of the mercury problem in the great lakes region until this summer. And from what we've seen in the studies, and what I've read up on, it's a pretty big deal."
Mercury is a naturally occurring element. But its release into the air is rising on a global scale with increased use of fossil fuels. As the mercury enters our lakes and streams, it is converted into methyl-mercury and can it infiltrates the food chain. Over time, methyl-mercury accumulates in the muscle tissue of fish. Some fish can have mercury levels 10 million times greater than that of its environment.
UW-L Biology Professor Mark Sandheinrich explains. "These fish are eaten by humans and fish eating wildlife, like loons and bald eagles. And in them, these high concentrations of methyl-mercury can have neurological effects on humans."
But Sandheinrich days this doesn't mean you have to completely cut fish out of your diet. You just need to be more selective of the fish you eat. "What we really want to do is minimize our risk by selecting those species and those sizes of fish that have lower concentrations of mercury. So for example, people not eating the oldest, largest game fish in the lake, but maybe having a meal of pan fish instead." And this goes doubly for where the fish are caught, "what we really need to do is be a little more conscious about where we're getting that fish from. You know, you can have two lakes relatively close to each other, one will have very high mercury concentrations in the fish, the other will be really low."
The great lakes mercury study will conclude in 2015. Their findings will be shared with the National Park Service to better protect the environment and inform people about the fish they are eating. If you're concerned about the fish you've been eating the DNR has consumption guidelines for area waters. This information is listed on the Wisconsin DNR website at http://dnr.wi.gov/news/DNRNews_Article_Lookup.asp?id=2216 .
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