Advisory warns of mercury levels in Meherrin

Fishing in Virginia waters provides many benefits including food and recreational enjoyment. Many fishermen keep, cook and eat the fish they catch. Many local people fish in the Meherrin River or Nottoway River, but whether they know it or not, they need to limit the amount of fish they consume if caught locally.

There are several advisories warning people to limit fish consumption listed for the muddy Meherrin River for a variety of reasons such as cancer causing chemicals. A warning has been issued for the entire Meherrin River Reservoir due to mercury levels. All 210 acres of the reservoir are listed on the advisory due to fish being tested that contained mercury.

But the Meherrin River isn’t the only local body of water to have fish samples showing mercury. The advisory lists the main stem Nottoway River segment, which is 92 miles, due to mercury found in largemouth and smallmouth bass, bowfin, redhorse sucker species, longnose gar, channel catfish, chain pickerel and sunfish species.

At least one person living on the Meherrin Reservoir has reported catching deformed fish. When she reported the fish she said she was told that the deformities were caused by pollution, probably from agricultural products dumped in the river years ago.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) routinely monitors fish from Virginia waters for contaminants and provides fish tissue sample results to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) for analysis.

While most Virginia waters do not have dangerous levels of contaminants, sometimes the fish in certain waters are found to contain chemicals at levels of concern. Meal advisories are listed to protect the general public from adverse health effects of contaminants. A meal is considered to be an eight-ounce (half-pound) serving of fish.

There is an advisory for the Meherrin River from below Emporia Dam downstream 28 miles to the Route 730 bridge in Southampton County. The advisory was issued because PCBs were found in Gizzard Shad. No more than two meals of fish a month should be eaten if caught.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Environmental Protection Agency classify PCBs as a probable human carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program has concluded that PCBs are reasonably likely to cause cancer in humans.

Unlike water-soluble chemicals, PCBs are not excreted, so the body accumulates PCBs over years. This means that PCBs also accumulate via the food chain. A small fish may absorb PCBs in water or by eating plankton, and these PCBs are stored in its body fat.

When a larger fish eats the small fish, it also eats and absorbs all the PCBs that have built up in the small fish. In this way, larger fish and animals can build up a highly concentrated store of PCBs.

Some types of PCBs may degrade into nontoxic form while they are stored in the body, but this process can take many years. Women exposed to PCBs before or during pregnancy can give birth to children with significant neurological and motor control problems, including lowered IQ and poor short-term memory.

Another advisory was issued from below the Emporia Reservoir Dam to the state line including its tributaries Fontaine Creek up to the Interstate 95 bridge crossing and Mill Swamp up to Interstate 95 bridge crossing. Mercury was found in largemouth bass and bowfin.

Another advisory lists the Nottoway River from the confluence with Blackwater River at the Virginia-North Carolina state line upstream to State Route 619 near Purdy including its tributary Assamoosick Swamp, Three Creek up to Interstate 95, Rowanty Creek and its tributaries Hatcher Run up to Interstate 85 and Arthur Swamp up to Interstate 85.

The Virginia Department of Health will issue a fish consumption advisory when fish taken from a particular body of water are found to contain potentially harmful levels of contaminants. A fish consumption advisory is not a prohibition of eating fish but a warning about the contaminants present and the possible health effects on those who consume these fish.

Each advisory specifies the location of contamination within the water body, all affected localities, the contaminants present, the species of fish involved and the number of meals allowed for the species of fish included in the advisory.

When a fish consumption restriction is placed on a body of water, anglers may still fish these waters for sport but are prohibited from taking fish for human consumption.