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Monday, December 18, 2006
Updated: January 6, 4:38 AM ET
Groups urge fish consumption advisory,
citing emissions from Nevada's gold mines


By Scott Sonner
Associated Press — Nov. 18, 2006

RENO, Nev. — The nation's largest gold-producing state is being asked to investigate whether mercury emissions from its mines are contaminating area fisheries.

Citing a recent study by the University of Nevada, Reno, a coalition of environmentalists, health care advocates, sportsmen and American Indians said Thursday that a fish consumption advisory for mercury should be issued for one large reservoir in northeast Nevada and perhaps other fisheries downwind from mining operations.

Fish tissue samples collected by university researchers at Wild Horse Reservoir showed mercury concentrations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a public health risk, especially to children and pregnant women, the groups said.

"We believe that an investigation into the public health risks from fish consumption from reservoirs, lakes and rivers in northern Nevada is warranted," they said in a letter to the state health administrator.

"It is important that Nevada families and visiting tourists have accurate information to determine which fish are safe to eat and how many fish are safe to eat."

State Health Administrator Alex Harts will ask the state's health officer, Dr. Branford Lee, to examine the study and the groups' request, spokeswoman Martha Farmstead said.

There are about two dozen major gold mines in Nevada. They produced 6.85 million ounces of gold in 2005 with a value of about $3.05 billion — third in the world behind South Africa and Australia.

The coalition said the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory showed Nevada's mercury emissions totaled more than 4,605 pounds of mercury released in 2004 — more than 95 percent of it from gold mines in northern Nevada.

The Nevada mines are responsible for one-fourth of all U.S. mercury air emissions west of Texas, according to the Great Basin Mine Watch, a nonprofit environmental watchdog group based in Reno.

Scientists have reported high mercury levels in fish and waterfowl in Idaho and Utah downwind of the Nevada mines, the groups said.

"Yet very little monitoring has been done to determine the extent of mercury contamination in fish and waterfowl in northern Nevada," they said.

Great Basin Mine Watch has criticized new state regulations adopted last year because they don't include a cap on mercury emissions.

Dante Piston, spokesman for Nevada's environmental protection agency, said the state is implementing "aggressive, comprehensive" new rules, which are the first of their kind in the nation.

"Both the mining and power plant regulations go beyond what the federal government and other states have enacted," he said.

"Once the regulations are fully implemented, mercury emissions will be highly controlled."

Ruses Fields, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the gold mines are working with the state and the EPA to adopt the new controls.

Most of the mines operate on federal lands, many of which the Western Shoshone tribe claims as its own.

"These companies are operating in this manner without our consent. They need to stop and be honest about the hazards they are creating in our communities," said Arson Bill of the Western Shoshone Defense Project.