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Roseau River fish reported to have high level of mercury contamination

Coal creates mercury in Minnesota fish
Coal creates mercury in Minnesota fish

Levels of mercury called “exceptionally high” in the fish of the Roseau River has prompted the state of Minnesota to launch a major study to find a cause.

Environmental bill SF 1899 passed through committee in the Minnesota Legislature on April 2. A part of it contains $743,000 to fund the second year of a study that is seeking to quantify the causes of high mercury in Roseau River fish.

The Roseau River is a preferred fishing venue for many folks in northwest Minnesota. It's a terrific place to snag northern pike and the occasional walleye.

All of the “usual suspects” for mercury pollution being looked at, including mercury contributed to the environment via the process of burning coal.

Unfortunately, a local power company, the Roseau Electric Cooperative, has recently been making a strenuous case, and has even enlisted the help of its members, in a campaign to stop the EPA from further regulating the dirty polluting coal emissions.

Roseau Electric Cooperative also recently published a series of scientifically inaccurate articles in its newsletter, attempting to convince co-op members that coal smog is a “harmless gas.” (See: Roseau Electric propaganda )

The cause of the alarming mercury elevation in one of northwest Minnesota’s most popular fishing spots is certainly complex -- drivers being looked at range from the broad effects falling out of climate change to increased sources of mercury coming into Minnesota from outside the United States.

China, for example, is burning more coal than ever, and its pollution is readily traveling around the globe.

Of course, among the most primary drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. Roseau Electric still gets almost 60% of its power from the dirtiest of fossil fuels -- lignite coal from North Dakota -- although Roseau Electric management maintains that "CO2 is harmless.”

Northern Minnesota power co-ops are so eager to keep burning coal that they have recently joined a lawsuit by North Dakota that is suing Minnesota for its efforts to back away from using dirty fossil fuels. See story: Lawsuit

In the meantime, the recent increase in levels of mercury in river fish -- in addition to lake environments -- has caused surprise and alarm within the scientific community. Mercury accumulation is better understood for lakes and ponds where the water does not flow with the same dynamics as it does in rivers.

Thus, “exceptionally high” levels of mercury documented in Roseau River fish is a cause for concern, thus prompting this latest taxpayer-funded study to get to the root of the problem.

The $743,000 for the second year of the study will come from cash collected through Minnesota’s Legacy project and will be funded to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which is doing the legwork.

The bill calls for the Roseau River mercury study to be completed by June 30, 2017.

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