An Eye-Opening Fish Story

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

By Danny Hart

For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my vacation to the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York. I’ve decided to recapture some of the childhood pleasure of trout fishing. As kids, my siblings and I learned “spin casting” as opposed to the more artistic “fly casting” method of fishing; though my grandfather tied his own flies and could fly cast, we didn’t inherit that skill.

As the time to depart for vacation nears, the excitement grows and I share my anticipation with coworkers. Last week, one asked from across our cubicle which lake I was visiting. I mentioned the name of the lake and she replied, “You know you can’t eat trout from that lake”. I couldn’t believe it! She showed me a website for New York waters and the health risks associated with eating fish from various lakes. I couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t be able to eat fish from a pristine, crystal clear lake! “DDT” she said, and lakes around the area were limited to one fish per month, one! Why? “Mercury” she said.

In that moment, the vision I had in my head of untouched natural wonder transformed to polluted, man-effected potential hazard. How could this be? How could these waters so far from industry have been changed? I realized then, that we are all connected in some way…that the smoke stacks in the Midwest directly affect the water and air quality of once-untouched waterways hundreds of miles away. The winds carry heavy metals and drop them in the form of rain. The DDT came from some other source, which is a mystery on that particular lake to this day.

Once I realized the connection I wanted to know more about this issue. I found out EPA recently finalized what is called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will prevent smoke stack pollution like mercury and other toxics from traveling long-distances and polluting what should be pristine lakes. The agency is also developing mercury and air toxics standards that will go a long way to cut mercury — and other harmful pollution — from our environment, so that maybe one day my kids (and their kids) will have an opportunity to fish in these lakes.

So, next week we’ll boat and swim in the lake. But we won’t fish. To safely fish, we’ll have to drive to another lake. We’re lucky, because there are other lakes in the area where eating the fish is still safe. For now.

About the author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications.

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