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Fishermen Waiting For More Information
On Mercury Contamination Of River Bass
BY SUSAN USHER
Kenneth Babson asks the same
questions customers at his neighbor
hood store ask when they stop to
buy gas, pick up a quart of milk or
put their boats in the Waccamaw
River 3t the New Britton Bridge
landing at the Cclumbus County
"Just about every tody that comes
by here asks about it," said Babson,
a nearby customer nodding his head
in agreement. "People are a lot more
concerned about it than the state re
alizes. We would like some answers.
We want to know what is going on."
"It" is the July 27 state health ad
visory that recommends limiting
consumption of largemouth bass
caught in the Waccamaw River or
Big Creek in Columbus County be
cause of elevated levels of mercury.
Since then the state has launched
an investigation that could deter
mine the extent of the contamina
tion, as well as testing five fisher
men who were accustomed to eating
heavily of bass caught from the riv
While the advisory regards only
largemouth bass, most of the fisher
men tested for mercury accumula
tion told Dr. Greg Smith, a state epi
demiologist, their fish eating habits
"Almost all of them told me they
had essentially stopped eating fresh
water fish, so apparently the adviso
ry is having an impact.
"They said they are still eating
fish, but are eating saltwater fish
they have bought. They are aware
the advisory is for bass, hut for some
reason they made that personal
However, Smith said he is not ad
vocating that approach; the state's
advisory stands as issued.
Fishermen's reluctance to cat any
Fish at all from the river reflects gen
eral suspicions expressed by cus
tomers at Babson's gener?l store.
Babson said people who talk to him
want to hear about additional test re
sults that confirm it is safe to eat
other types of fish.
But most of all, he said, they want
to know why there's a mercury
problem. The river/Big Creek advi
sory is only the third such notice is
sued statewide and the First in south
eastern North Carolina.
Several agencies are involved in
the investigation, but none has an
swers yet. Results from two differ
ent types of testing are expected to
begin coming in during October, not
"We're anxiously awaiting testing
results too." said Jay Sauber of the
N.C. Division of Environmental
Management (DEM). "We have
done an awful lot of fish collecting
to date. We have several hundred
samples collected from the Lumber
and Waccamaw River areas, a lot of
different species. They're in the lab
"That's a lot of samples and this
is sophisticated testing. It takes
time." said Sauber.
Once the results are in and have
been interpreted by the agency's en
vironmental epidemiology staff, the
results will be compiled and re
leased to the public.
"This should give us some insight
into the geographic extent of the
problem." he said, which is one of
the first steps in narrowing down po
'Our whole purpose in this is to
let consumers know what is going
in. We just don't have the results
Hair and blood samples taken
from some Columbus County resi
dents who were in the habit of regu
larly eating largemouth bass from
the Waccainaw River or Big Creek
are also in state labs undergoing
analysis, along with control speci
mens that include samples provided
by Dr. Greg Smith, a state environ
Of the 20 persons scheduled for
to participate in the study being con
ducted in cooperation with the
Columbus County Health Depart
ment, only five showed up, he said.
"It was a rather disappointing
turnout." said Smith. "Any future ef
fort depends on what these results
show, if the levels are within the
range of normal background level
I'm not sure we would do anything
At two meetings with state offi
cials. local fishermen have asked
about the effects of past longterm
consumption of the food and
whether other types of fish common
in the river such as the predator
bowfin (blackfish), catfish and jack,
white perch (a member of the bass)
family and others such as the popu
lar bream had been tested as well. In
some cases a limited number of
specimens had been tested, not
enough from which to draw any
conclusions. Some species simply
had not been caught in previous
sample collection trips.
According to state health offi
cials, the river is safe for recreation
al purposes such as swimming, wad
ing and boating, as well as catching
and eating other species of fish.
Elevated mercury levels were first
noticed in routine fish tissue sam
pling by the state in May 1992 and
confirmed by additional sampling
from June 1992 through April 1993.
Some of the highest concentrations
of mercury were noted in bass taken
from waters near the New Britton
and Pireway bridge landings.
The largemouth bass is a predator.
It eats smaller fish, which means it
can accumulate mercury found in
smaller amounts in those fish in its
- NOTICE -
irpufl to in lltaaui ,1,'j cjntaio fiigfw titan
?? M fe Weil lo dc more than two meals per
WfOAl ... iL At ?? 1 ?
MR health director
STAFF PHOTO BY SUSAN USHER
THIS NOTICE warns of higher than normal levels of mercury on
ly in largemouth bass caught in the Waccamaw River, hut area
fishermen aren V satisfied that it's safe to eat other species found in
tissue at a rate faster than the mer
cury leaves its body.
Because of potential side effects,
the advisory urges women of child
bearing age and children not to con
sume the largemouth bass at all.
Other adults are encouraged to eat
no more than two meals (totaling ap
proximately one pound) of large
mouth bass in a month's time.
Local Effort To Benefit
Midwestern Flood Victims
A local woman is leading a relief
drive to collect supplies for Mid
western flood victims.
"We want to give folks in this
area an opportunity to reach out to
the thousands of people who lost
everything in this summer's floods,"
said Janet Pope of Grissettown, co
ordinator of the drive.
The goal is to collect a tractor
trailerload of supplies which will be
picked up and distributed by Larry
Jones International Ministries/Feed
the Children, an Oklahoma City
based mission group which has been
responding to natural disasters and
other worldwide needs for 20 years.
The ministry has already delivered
91 truckloads ? 3 million pounds of
food, clothing and other supplies ? to
the flood victims, she added.
"I saw a television special about
it, and I was thrilled that this might
be a way to let local people reach
out and make a difference."
Goods will be collected at the fel
lowship hall of Shallotte First Bap
tist Church every weekday until
Sept. 28 from 10-1 1:30 a.m. and 5-7
p.m. On Saturdays, the site will be
staffed from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
"When we have a truckload ?
enough to fill a space about 40 by 40
by 3 feet ? we'll need to sort, box
and label the goods to be ready for
Among items the flood victims
need are baby food, formula, dispos
able diapers and all baby products;
nonperishable foods and beverages,
paper goods, disposable plates, cups
and utensils; personal hygiene items,
bottled water, clothing, shoes, clean
linens, toys and school supplies.
Also needed are volunteers to
help staff the collection site and to
help prepare donations for shipping.
For more information about how
to help, call Janet Pope at 287-3 111.
for a dry ride
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