Mercury: It’s not good for fish or fishermen

By Peter Kent

Some fish caught in South Carolina may not be safe to eat because they contain harmful levels of chemicals that cause health problems, especially for children and pregnant women.

Environmental chemist Beth Carraway studies how mercury moves through stream and river environments. Organic sediment, such as leaves and grasses, can remove some of the chemical from water. However, certain bacteria can transform mercury into methylmercury that builds up in insects and fish, magnifying the health risks.

“We need to identify and explain how mercury gets into the water and where it poses the greatest concern,” said Carraway. “With this information we can make better choices about applying technologies and setting reductions, along with making better predictions about exposure levels to people.”

Burning coal, other fossil fuels, and even trash – as well as factory smokestacks – can increase the mercury in the air. The chemical returns to the earth in rain and snow and ends up in lakes and rivers. The U.S. Geological Service reports that the Southeast in general and the Santee area in particular show above average methylmercury levels.

For information: Elizabeth Carraway, 864-646-2189,