Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Why One Lawmaker Wants Texas Lakes to Post Mercury Warnings

Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

A fisherman walks from his fishing spot at the Tonkawa Falls area 10 January 2004 in Crawford, Texas. A new bill would require lakes with mercury contamination to post warning signs to fishermen.

Many of Texas’ lakes and bays have become contaminated with mercury, which has, in turn, contaminated the consumable fish living in them, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Now one lawmaker has filed a bill, HB 993, that would help notify people of mercury problems in state waters.

“Right now there aren’t any signs at lakes with mercury contamination,” said Lucia Mendez, assistant committee clerk for the House Committee on Culture, Tourism and Recreation. She assisted in writing the bill.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, has filed a bill that will require, when financially possible, state agencies with authority over water bodies holding contaminated fish to post signage that warns fisherman of possible mercury contamination in fish and shellfish.

The state agency in charge of the individual lake could also provide a warning on their website and make educational materials detailing the risk. Advisories would be updated once a year by the Department of State Health Services.

Guillen put forth the bill because outdoor activities like fishing fall under his purview as the Chairman of the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.

Coal-fired power plants are the leading single cause of mercury contamination in fish in the Texas, according to a 2006 TCEQ study, and the majority of contamination has occurred in East Texas, where several lakes are actually cooling reservoirs for power plants. The EPA introduced emissions standards for mercury in 2011. The EPA standards, set to begin in 2016, will require coal power plants to install scrubbers or shut down.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department already posts fishing advisories on its website.

Advisories currently posted on the site warn of fish contamination in more than 19 bodies of freshwater. The advisories vary widely. For instance, at Canyon Lake north of San Antonio, people older than 12 are advised not to eat more than eight ounces of striped bass per month due to mercury contamination. In another lake, Mountain Creek Lake near Dallas, people advised not to eat any fish at all due to PCBs (cancer causing Polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxin contamination.

Mercury isn’t the only contaminant in Texas’ fish.

Dioxin and PCBs also contaminate some Texas water bodies. The Donna Canal Superfund site was discovered to have fish with the highest ever recorded amount of PCBs.

Guillen’s bill does not require that signage indicate Dioxin or PCB contamination in fish.

David Barer is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.


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