Rhode Island has yet to establish a robust program to assess fish tissue for mercury and associated public health risks due to a lack of dedicated funding, making this area one of Rhode Island’s largest environmental data gaps.

In the interim, collaborations between the RI Department of Environmental Management’s (RIDEM) Office of Water Resources and Division of Fish and Wildlife along with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Ecology Division sample a subset of water bodies around the state.  In 2014, Carbuncle and Union Ponds, Lake Washington, and Slatersville and Smith and Sayles Reservoirs were sampled.  Data indicated if mercury levels in freshwater fish tissue were elevated and if consumption advisories were needed to protect public health. These samplings continue today and researchers use these data to improve understanding of the fate and impact of contaminants in the environment. These data are also used in the statewide water quality assessment process.

RIDEM has made a commitment to sample fish tissue from a subset of Rhode Island lakes and ponds, particularly those publicly accessible to boats as those are most commonly used by more fishermen. The program design will be implemented over a five-year time frame. Additionally, RIDEM is collaborating with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission to regionally monitor mercury in fish tissue; this effort is aimed at evaluating progress on implementation of a regional mercury plan.

In 2014, the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) increased efforts surrounding fish toxin advisories. RIDOH, with Brown University and RIDEM, is currently building an external website devoted to fish consumption advisories for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of chemicals that were common in many industrial activities until the 1970s and can also accumulate in fish tissue.  In addition, historical data sets are being collected from statewide sampling initiatives to bring all fish toxin data into one location. Funding for the website is being supplied by multiple RIDOH divisions.

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Photo courtesy of RIDEM.