April 3 meeting showcased regional studies and health information
Last Thursday over sixty people showed up to the Plumas County Fairgrounds for an informational event about legacy mines in the Sierra Nevada hosted by a regional nonprofit organization, The Sierra Fund (TSF). The event was presented with the support of the County of Plumas and the California Indian Environmental Alliance.
“We were thrilled to have such a broad range of participants attend the meeting,” said Elizabeth Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund. “The number of people who attended and the great questions they asked clearly show that folks are interested in our region’s mining history and how it plays into our lives today.”
Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson opened the meeting by welcoming The Sierra Fund and expressing her interest in learning more about the topics that were on the agenda. Robert Meacher, former Placer County Supervisor and current Board Member of The Sierra Fund, introduced the organization and framed the goals for the evening’s meeting, which were to share information on studies that had been conducted in the Bear and Yuba River watersheds, and on the health effects of mercury in California.
The Sierra Fund Science Director Carrie Monohan, Ph.D. presented Fish and Dust: Legacy Impacts from the Gold Rush, an overview of two studies The Sierra Fund completed to raise awareness about potential human exposure to heavy metals: the Gold County Angler Survey and the Gold County Recreational Trails Assessment.
Dr. Monohan described how the State of California has issued a fish consumption warning about mercury for all lakes and reservoirs in California, and has issued site-specific advisories for Lake Oroville and the Lower Feather River. These advisories warn that to be safe, women under 45 and children under 18 should not eat any bass or large brown trout from these and many other lakes.
Sherri Norris, Executive Director of the California Indian Environmental Alliance, presented the medical basis for why mercury in fish is an issue for women of childbearing age and children. She described how the toxin can have subtle but life-long effects on a child’s development if it is exposed to mercury in utero or through eating high mercury fish as a child.
Mercury, which was historically used during the gold extraction process and is present in areas where historic gold mining occurred, can move up the food chain and accumulate in large predatory fish. The way humans are exposed to that mercury is by eating fish that have lived a long time and have a diet of eating other smaller fish.
Norris emphasized that while high mercury fish such as bass or brown trout should be avoided, eating fish with low mercury such as rainbow trout and wild-caught salmon is important and supports a child’s healthy development.
Norris has conducted certified trainings for doctors and nurses about mercury in the human body since 2003. In 2013, The Sierra Fund and California Indian Environmental Alliance worked together to bring this information to health professionals in Nevada, Sierra, Placer and Plumas Counties. These trainings and the materials provided, some of which were presented at the April 3 meeting, are accredited by the Institute for Medical Quality/California Medical Association.
Presenters accepted questions form the audience and stayed late to talk with local residents about topics from the evening.