Mercury FAQs

What is an advisory?

An advisory is just a is not a law.  You will not go to jail for eating fish out of a particular stream or lake, and no one can stop you from fishing or eating the fish.  A fish consumption advisory is a very conservative estimate of how much fish you can eat without any adverse health effects.

Can I eat my fish?

Most people can safely eat at least some if not all of the fish they catch. Advisories vary and it is important to read each one carefully, as many include only certain species of fish.  Pregnant and nursing women and children under the age of 7 are most sensitive to the effects of mercury.  Some advisories apply ONLY to sensitive groups, while others apply to the general population. 

Will I get sick if I just ate fish from an advisory area?

If you occasionallyeat fish from an advisory area, it is very unlikely that you will get sick.  Even in advisory areas, the mercury levels found in fish are well below what normally causes adverse health effects.  If fish from an advisory area is a primary part of your diet, you should follow the advisory consumption levels, especially of the predatory species like bowfin and largemouth bass.  However, if you have eaten fish from an advisory area, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, and are concerned about your health you may want to speak with a health care provider. 

Is it safe to buy fish from vendors or grocery stores?

Fish consumption advisories are directed towards sports and subsistence fishermen.  Commercial fishermen are not prohibited from fishing in advisory areas.  Bowfin and freshwater drum are two commercial species that are often targeted in advisories.  Consumers are advised to buy fish only from reputable sources and to question grocers/suppliers as to the location of the catch and follow the species-specific language in the advisories.

How can I tell if I am affected by mercury?

Symptoms of mercury poisoning usually begin with numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes, irritability, tremors.  High-level, long-term exposure can lead to memory loss, vision loss, hearing loss, psychosis, birth defects, and death.   All forms of mercury affect the central nervous system.  High levels of elemental, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetuses.  Organic forms of mercury, which are found in the edible parts of fish, are the most toxic.

Should I see my doctor if I ate the fish?

If you experience any of the described symptoms or other neurological problems, you should see a doctor.  Even if you do not experience any symptoms and are concerned about mercury contamination, you may ask your doctor to take a sample of your hair or blood and test it for mercury levels. 

Is it safe to swim?

All mercury advisories apply only to fish consumption, so you will not be exposed to mercury by swimming in a mercury advisory area.  Swimming advisories are posted for several water bodies in Louisiana, so it is important to check with either LDEQ or LDHH to get a list of the most recent swimming advisories.  Swimming advisories are issued due to high levels of fecal coliform or other chemicals, not mercury.

Can I still fish in a mercury advisory area?

Mercury advisories on a water body should not affect your desire to enjoy a day of fishing.  The fish are largely unaffected by the mercury in their tissues and will continue to give you the challenge and fun of trying to catch them.  In areas where mercury concentrations are a concern for eating, you can always practice catch and release, but as described above, you can safely eat some of the fish you catch.

Where is the mercury coming from?

Mercury, a naturally occurring element, is mined by humans and used in numerous household products, dental fillings, industrial processes, and is also a trace element in fossil fuels (primarily coal).   Although there are many potential sources, the greatest anthropogenic source of mercury in water appears to be emissions from coal fired electric plants.  Natural sources of mercury contamination include volcanic activity.   Mercury released into the air can travel long distances and then be deposited into streams and lakes through atmospheric deposition (fall-out), making it nearly impossible to pinpoint sources of contamination.  Mercury is also released into water and air by some industrial processes, waste incineration, and improper disposal of mercury-containing products. All sources of mercury emissions are being evaluated and reduced or eliminated where possible.

Can we get rid of it?

Unfortunately, you can't get rid of mercury.  Mercury is an element and can exist in several forms (elemental, inorganic compounds, organic compounds), but it does not degrade.  Soil, sludge, and other solid waste contaminated with mercury can be removed and disposed of elsewhere, such as in an approved hazardous waste landfill, but it will never be gone.  In order to reduce the risk of further mercury contamination, mercury use is being phased out of certain products, like batteries and children's light-up shoes.  Industrial permit limits are becoming more stringent, and better control technology is being developed.  As a result, mercury discharges into streams and lakes have been greatly reduced in the past few decades.

 Page last updated May 24, 2016

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