Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mercury Making No Waves Refuge Rangers Say Reports Not New

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mercury Making No Waves Refuge Rangers Say Reports Not New

Article excerpt

OKEFENOKEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE -- Okefenokee National

Wildlife Refuge officials said they have known about elevated

mercury levels in the waters there for at least two years but

don't know the origin.

"We're concerned about the problems and we've issued warnings

in the past," said Jim Burkhart, a ranger at the refuge. "But

mercury is nothing new to a peat environment," one with decaying

vegetation and peat moss. "It's characteristic to blackwater

areas throughout the southeast."

Refuge officials said they haven't received a copy of a study

announced Monday that showed mercury levels are rising at the

Southeast Georgia swamp. The study, conducted by researchers

from the University of Georgia and the Patuxent Biological

Research Center in Maryland, showed high mercury levels in

aquatic plants, crayfish, frogs, and some species of fish at the

refuge.

Burkhart, who has been at the refuge close to two decades,

speculated the contamination could be the result of airborne

pollutants washed into the refuge from rain.

But mercury could also be a natural occurrence, he said,

resulting from a chemical reaction from sediments, plants and

soils combining with the acidic waters flowing from the swamp.

Anglers were warned two years ago to limit their consumption of

largemouth bass caught at the refuge and the Suwannee and St.

Marys rivers because of mercury, Georgia Department of Natural

Resources officials said. Both rivers begin in the Okefenokee

Swamp.

Carl Glenn Jr., owner of the concession building at the

refuge's Folkston entrance, said he isn't worried about reported

high mercury levels in the fish he has caught and eaten from the

swamp's waters during the past 40 years.

"It's not a threat to me," Glenn said. "All these local boys

have taken fish out of here."

Burkhart said anglers shouldn't worry about mercury poisoning

unless their sole source of food is from fish caught at the

refuge. …

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