TSF Makes Strides to Reduce Public Exposure to Mercury in California

Water bodies across the state of California are listed under Clean Water Act section 303(d) as mercury-impaired. Consumption of contaminated fish is the primary pathway of human exposure to mercury, a developmental neurotoxin, and sensitive populations including infants, children, and pregnant women are at greatest risk for exposure.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued both site-specific and statewide fish consumption advisories in an effort to provide healthy eating guidelines for people who consume locally caught fish. However, it is not currently mandated that waterbody managers post this information, even though the consumption of contaminated fish may pose an imminent threat to public health.

In the Sierra Nevada region TSF has posted applicable fish consumption advisories annually since 2015 through our volunteer “Post It Day” effort to increase access to this important information. Unfortunately, in many areas of the state fish advisories are posted haphazardly or not at all. Inconsistency in posting may lead anglers to believe that a waterbody without a posted advisory contains fish that are safe to eat, which is often not the case. The next step in advancing the Post It Day project and our effort to reduce mercury exposure is to work toward consistent, statewide posting of fish consumption advisories at all California water bodies.

This Spring, California Assemblymember Bill Quirk introduced Assembly Bill 762 to improve statewide access to information about healthy eating guidelines for populations that consume locally caught fish. The bill would require local health officers to post health warnings upon the issuance of a site-specific fish or shellfish advisory. This strengthens language contained in the Water Code (Division 7, Chapter 3, Article 4 Section 13177.5 (e)) which urges health officers to post health warnings pursuant to a health advisory. Assembly Bill 762 would require fish advisories to be posted at specified locations, and would require local health officers to coordinate with the State Department of Public Health, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board to identify appropriate posting locations and signage. This bill has passed the Assembly Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee and is moving through the system.

We are working closely with Dr. Quirk to ensure that his bill is enforceable, effective and successful. To facilitate this effort, on May 23rd, staff of TSF traveled to the State Capitol, where we convened a special meeting of our Headwater Mercury Source Reduction (HMSR)Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on the topic of Mercury Exposure. The TAC examined best-practices for risk communication and leveraged the expertise of public health officials, agency leaders, outreach experts and on-the-ground stakeholders to evaluate the pros and cons of different implementation approaches for requiring the posting of state-issued fish consumption advisories.

In attendance were 22 representatives from key stakeholder groups including the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Department of Public Health, California Department of Conservation, Delta Mercury Exposure Reduction Program/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, California Department of Water Resources, UC Merced , CSU Chico, Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, several consulting firms and NGOs, and State Assemblymember Bill Quirk and staff.