West Virginia has recently increased the amount of allowable mercury pollution in the states lakes, rivers, and waterways. West Virginia’s new regulations are even less stringent than the minimal national standard. As Seattle University School of Law Associate Professor Catherine O’Neill explains, this is a bad decision based on faulty logic.
Polluted waterways are a problem, in part, because fish are such an important part of a healthy diet. In O’Neill’s blog-post with the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), she notes a host of health benefits linked to fish: "fish are an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and a host of other nutrients essential to human health….the American Heart Association recommends that adults eat two 6-ounce fish meals per week, in order to ensure cardiovascular health. The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration similarly recommend that pregnant and nursing women eat two 6-once fish meals per week, in order to ensure the healthy development of their babies."
Mercury pollution poses a serious threat to all this healthy eating. According to O’Neill, "Methylmercury (the form of mercury that bioaccumulates in fish) is a potent neurotoxin. Exposure to even very small amounts of methylmercury in utero or during childhood can lead to irreversible neurological damage."
So, here is the worst part. Why in the world would West Virginia allow an increase in this pollution? Well, because people are eating less fish these days (according to them), so more pollution is less of a threat. Why are people eating less fish? Could it be because West Virginia is under a state-wide fish advisroy due to mercury poisoning that warns people against eating the fish caught there?
The circular and short-sighted thinking applied by West Virginia here boggles the mind. O’Neill accurately argues that consumers, and child bearing age women in particular, should not have to choose between no fish and poison fish. We all need healthy fish to remain an option.