March 2009 marked a memorable month in the 19 years I have worked for EPA’s Office of Water. That is when Environmental Monitoring and Assessment published two articles about EPA’s National Lake Fish Tissue Study. I had the privilege of managing this study for the 8 years required to complete it.
This study was a unique achievement. It was the first statistically-based national assessment of freshwater fish contamination to be conducted in the United States. It also included the largest set of chemicals (268) ever studied in fish. Field crews worked 4 years to collect fish samples from 500 lakes selected randomly from a statistically-defined set of about 147,000 lakes in the lower 48 states. Tony Olsen in EPA’s Office of Research and Development designed the study and directed statistical analysis of the concentration data. The design of this study generated results that allowed EPA to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs across the country with fish tissue concentrations of specific chemicals, such as mercury, above levels of concern for human health.
Aside from my intense feeling of pride in providing leadership for this major scientific study, I look back in amazement at the number of people who volunteered years of effort to make this study possible. EPA relied on the participation of scientists from 58 state, tribal, and federal agencies for 5 years to evaluate sampling sites and collect fish samples. Their long-term commitment to maintaining the highest standards of quality while participating in the study produced scientific results that earned the praise of senior EPA managers, industry representatives, and members of academia. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of the scientists across the country that support EPA. In the end, it was their hard work and dedication that made this study a success.
Leanne Stahl is an environmental scientist in the Standards and Health Protection Division of the Office of Water, where she conducts research on chemical contamination in fish and surface waters.