Jerry J. Herrmann

Special to the Grove Sun

The initial findings of the Grand Lake Watershed Mercury Study show that the fish in Grand Lake and Lake Hudson are safe to eat.

Laurel Schaider, a research associate at Harvard School of Public Health who has been involved in the four-year study since its inception, said at a press conference Wednesday at the LEAD (Local Environmental Action Demanded) Agency’s Miami office, that they went into the study thinking the fish in the two lakes and their watershed would have a high mercury level.

“So far, we haven’t found that,” she said.

Schaider said they also expected to find a higher level of mercury in the longer fish, but that’s not the case so far either.

The $900,000 study is being paid for by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

She stressed the study is being done because a lot of people rely on the fish in Grand Lake or Lake Hudson. “We wanted to see if the fish are safe to eat by measuring commonly-eaten types of fish throughout the Grand Lake watershed and measuring the mercury exposure and fish consumption patterns in people who rely on the watershed as a source of fish in their diet.”

Since last July, Schaider said 65 people have participated in the study. “We hope to have 150 involved before the study is over, so we need more people to participate,” she said.

Schaider said so far they have analyzed 232 samples from 181 fish, and have 371 samples from 291 fish, so we have a ways to go to get through the samples they have now.

Of the 65 people involved in the study so far, nearly 80 percent of the participants are over 40 years old. The average age is 55, while the median age is 59. And 56 percent are males as compared to 46 percent being females.

One of the study’s disappointments, she said, is that 67 percent of the participants are white, 29 percent are American Indian and 4 percent are Hispanic. Schaider said they are working on building relationships with the other nationalities in the area to get them included in the study.

Of the first 48 participants, she said, 25 came from Miami and Fairland. The rest came from communities in the area and in Kansas and Missouri.

The tests for mercury in the first 48 participants’ hair are well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline for women of child-bearing age of 1 part per million.

The Grand Lake study showed a median level of .2 ppm of mercury in women’s hair in the study. This is nearly the same amount the nationwide NHANES study had of .19 ppm.

Schaider said the initial results show 35 percent of the participants eat fish two to three times a month, while 27 percent eat fish once a week, and about 9 percent eat fish two to three times a week.

She said average participants ate the equivalent of 35 grams or 1.2 ounces of fish per day. That is higher than the national average eaten in the U.S. of 20 grams or .7 ounces per day.

The first 72 questionnaires filled out in the study show that catfish, crappie, spoonbill and bass are the most popular fish the participants had eaten.

She said 57 percent of the fish the participants ate were locally caught fish. Catfish (including channel, flathead and blue catfish combined) were the most frequently eaten fish, accounting for 34 percent.

All types of bass (striped, white, largemouth and smallmouth bass combined), accounted for 11 percent of the fish eaten.

Spoonbill and crappie both accounted for around five percent of the fish eaten by the participants.

Tuna (both albacore and light tuna combined) and shrimp were the most frequently eaten types of non-local fish, accounting for 12 percent and 11 percent of the fish eaten.

Schaider said the study showed 33 percent of the participants’ mercury consumption is from tuna, 22 percent from bass and 18 percent from catfish.

In the study, the researchers are also plotting where the fish came from so they can see how the mercury levels vary.

Schaider said they are seeking people who rely most heavily on the watershed as the source for the fish in their diet. “By eating so many fish they may be exposed to higher levels of mercury through the fish in their diet,” she said.

She said they are still seeking new participants who eat fish from all parts of the Grand Lake watershed.

People who are interested in participating in the study or in donating fish samples can learn more at www.grandlakemercurystudy.org by contacting Earl Hatley at ehatley@neok.com or by calling the LEAD Agency office at 918-5432-9399.