Mercury Levels Trigger Fish Consumption Advisory at Badger: CSWAB Calls for Cleanup

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View of the Ballistics Pond looking northeast at the Baraboo Hills. Photo source: Badger Army Ammunition Plant

Certain people, who are more sensitive to mercury, should not eat fish from the Ballistics Pond at Badger Army Ammunition Plant. According to a letter sent to 20 area residents that received a permit to fish at Badger in the past, the level of mercury detected in largemouth bass was 0.78 parts per million. At this level, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) said that people that are more sensitive to mercury, including women of childbearing age and children under 15 years old, should not any of these fish. Other people should not eat more than 13 meals per year of these fish, DHFS said.

The Ballistics Pond, once used as an evaporation and settling basin for industrial wastewater, is one of 92 Wisconsin inland waters that warrant a stronger “Do Not Eat” advisory than the general recommendations for all Wisconsin waters. The general statewide advisory recommends that women of childbearing years and children under 15 should limit themselves to one meal of panfish a week and one meal of gamefish a month from inland waters.

There are human health risks from regularly eating fish with high levels of mercury, the DHFS said.  Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning that it affects the brain and nervous system. Small children and especially fetuses are the most at risk for damage from mercury poisoning because their brains are still developing.

The Ballistics Pond is a 10-acre pond located in the northwestern corner of Badger. The pond received filter backwash water from the water treatment plant and is in close proximity to a rocket motor testing site. According to recent Army reports, the WDNR has determined that the concentrations of mercury in sediment and fish tissue from the Ballistics Pond do not warrant remediation.

CSWAB is currently questioning the decision to not enforce cleanup of the pond. Recent testing at other sites, including Gruber’s Grove Bay on Lake Wisconsin, shows that Badger is a major source of mercury contamination in and around the plant. The group believes this new information is both a basis and an opportunity to restore this important surface water resource. Without cleanup, recreational fishing, hatcheries, and other sustainable future uses will not be possible.

“So often the scope of a cleanup project is not economically or mechanically feasible but here the successful restoration of a healthy aquatic ecosystem is readily attainable,” said Laura Olah, Executive Director of CSWAB. “The mercury will not degrade over time; it will only continue to accumulate in the environment. The Army has the resources to clean it up.”

The DHFS said the Army currently recommends to permit holders that they eat no fish from the Ballistics Pond. In the past, however, people have been allowed to eat these fish.

Anyone having any health questions or concerns about eating these fish should contact Henry Nehls-Lowe, Bureau of Environmental Health (608) 266-3479.  To receive updates on this and other CSWAB campaigns, call (608) 643-3124 or visit www.cswab.org.

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