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Volunteers Sought For
Investigation On Effects
Of Mercury In River Bass
BY SUSAN USHKR
Stale health officials are looking
for volunteers for a study that will
try to determine what effect, if any,
elevated mercury levels in large
mouth bass taken from the Wacca
maw River are having on people
who eat the fish regularly.
High mercury levels found in bass
tissue samples prompted the state to
issue an advisory last month urging
men and post-mcnopausal women to
limit consumption of largcmouth
bass from the river and from Big
Creek above Lake Waccamaw to no
more than two half pound servings a
month. The advisory suggests wo
men of childbearing age and chil
dren up to age 15 not cat the large
mouth bass at all.
Mercury is a naturally-occurring
element that in high accumulations
can cause brain and kidney damage
and birth defects.
Dr. Greg Smith, a state epidemiol
ogist, said the state health division
would like to test 20 to 25 people
from Columbus and Brunswick
counties who regularly eat fish
caught in the river, such as subsis
tence fishermen and their families,
as well as one or two similarly-sized
control groups made up of individu
als whose diets don't regularly in
clude Waccamaw River fish.
"We would like to try to do this
study in the next two weeks," Smith
said Tuesday. "We have a limited
amount of money to do this, since
wc had nothing set aside in our bud
get for this kind of testing."
Plans for the study were announc
ed Monday night at a meeting in Old
Dock at which state officials at
tempted to answer local residents'
questions about the mercury, its po
tential source(s) and the consump
tion advisory. The source of the
mcrcury has not been identified, and
testing of local waters and other
species of fish is continuing.
The planned study would have
several components, Smith said. All
participants would respond to a
questionnaire relating to their diet. It
would ask, among other things,
about how much fish they eat,
whether it is fresh- or saltwater fish,
and the particular species consumed.
Hair and blood samples from each
participant would be tested for mcr
The first group would be individ
uals who have potentially been ex
posed to mcrcury to a greater extent
than "there by virtue of having con
sumcd larger quantities of fish that
may or may not contain h:gher lev
els of mercury.
One control group would include
individuals who live in the same
community as the subsistence fisher
men, but do not consume fish from
the river on a regular basis.
"That way we could control for
some of the other factors that might
affect the results," said Smith.
A sccond control group would al
low even more comparisons. This
group would be made of up individ
uals representing a broader cross
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not living in the same immediate
area as the fishermen.
"We've already had a lot of inter
est from subsistence fishermen in
Columbus County," he said. "While
we're focusing on Columbus
County right now, the fact that
someone lives in Brunswick County
would not cxcludc them from the
He said anyone interested in par
ticipating in the study should contact
the Brunswick County Health De
partment, which he said would be
asked to make referrals to and work
with the Columbus County Health
Department on the project.
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