WASHINGTON -- More than one-third of the nation's lakes and nearly one-fourth of its rivers contain fish that may be contaminated with mercury, dioxin, PCB, and pesticide pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
The EPA released a list of advisories issued by states that monitor lakes and rivers for pollution levels affecting fish caught during recreational and sport fishing, but not deep-sea commercial fishing.
''It's about trout, not tuna. It's about what you catch on the shore, not what you buy off the shelf," Mike Leavitt, the EPA's administrator, said yesterday. ''This is about the health of pregnant mothers and small children; that's the primary focus of our concern."
Leavitt emphasized that monitoring by state officials is increasing, while pollution levels, particularly from mercury, are dropping. But he also said that nearly every time state officials check for pollution, they find it, meaning that eventually almost the entire United States could have fish advisories.
The advisories didn't change in New England, where states have been testing fish and warning about potential pollution for years, said EPA Region 1 spokesman Dave Deegan.
Massachusetts advises women of childbearing age and children under 12 not to eat any freshwater fish due to concerns about mercury contamination, which can harm children's developing brains. The state also issues specific advisories on contamination of individual bodies of water and species of fish. For instance, the state advises against eating fish from the Housatonic River due to PCB contamination, as well as Chadwicks Pond in Boxford and Haverhill due to mercury content. Pregnant women and children are advised not to eat largemouth bass caught on the Charles River between Natick and Cambridge, due to PCBs and pesticides. The general public is warned not to eat carp from those areas of the Charles, and to limit consumption of largemouth bass to two meals a month.
Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report.