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June 18, 1999

Contact: Geoff Ryan (NYCDEP) (718/595-5371)
Claire Pospisil (NYSDOH) (518/474-7354)

Mercury In Smallmouth Bass Leads To New Fish Advisory For Ashokan Reservoir

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) and New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) announced today that, of 108 fish collected in the Ashokan Reservoir by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and NYCDEP, smallmouth bass greater than 16 inches had an average mercury level of 1.1 part per million (ppm) exceeding the federal marketplace standard of 1 part per million (ppm). Small-mouth bass less than 16 inches averaged 0.7 part per million (ppm). Other fish species sampled included rainbow trout, brown trout, yellow bullhead, black crappie, chain pickerel, rockbass, walleye, largemouth bass and yellow perch; none of these fish, except one of four walleye, had mercury levels greater than the standard. Additional walleye samples will be collected soon.

Based on the new data, NYSDOH issued an advisory to eat no more than one meal per month of smallmouth bass over 16 inches from the Ashokan Reservoir. In 1998, NYSDOH issued an advisory to eat no more than one meal per month of smallmouth bass (all sizes) from the Neversink Reservoir, and eat no more than one meal per month of smallmouth bass over 16 inches from the Rondout Reservoir, also due to mercury contamination. Women of childbearing age, infants and children under the age of 15 are advised to eat no fish from the Ashokan, Neversink or Rondout Reservoirs. The NYSDOH general advisory for sportfish is that you eat no more than one meal (1/2 pound) per week of fish taken from any of the state's freshwater and some marine waters at the mouth of the Hudson River. When fish have contaminant levels greater than federal marketplace standards, NYSDOH issues specific advisories for that water body.

Virtually all of the mercury in the edible flesh of fish is in the form of methylmercury, an organic (carbon containing) form. Typically, methylmercury concentrations are much higher in fish than in the water in which they live, and smallmouth bass tend to have higher methylmercury levels than other fish in waters like the Ashokan, Neversink and Rondout Reservoirs. Fish absorb methylmercury from eating smaller organisms that contain methylmercury, as well as directly from the water.

NYCDEP Commissioner Joel A. Miele Sr., P.E., said, "There is no threat whatsoever to drinking water quality associated with the presence of methylmercury in fish. Water from the Ashokan, Rondout, Neversink and other reservoirs in the New York City public water supply system meets all state and federal standards for drinking water quality, including those for mercury."

Studies indicate that mercury released into the air can be transported long distances and deposited in waters when it rains. In artificial impoundments, such as reservoirs, particularly those with soft, corrosive water like Ashokan, Rondout, and Neversink Reservoirs, the transfer of mercury from the sediment, soil and rocks into fish is enhanced. As a result, elevated mercury levels are found in fish from water bodies with no known industrial sources of mercury.

NYSDEC Commissioner John P. Cahill said, "DEC will continue to work closely with DEP and NYSDOH to monitor and detect mercury contamination in the Ashokan Reservoir and to manage and protect this valuable natural resource."

Copies of brochures which describe the NYSDOH fish advisories for the New York City reservoir system (including the Ashokan, Rondout and Neversink Reservoirs) are available at kiosks placed around these reservoirs and at NYCDEP permit offices in Ashokan, Prattsville, Grahamsville, Downsville, and Carmel.

People with questions about the New York City reservoir system can call the New York City Department of Environmental Protection at 718-337-4357 (718-DEP-HELP) or visit DEP's Website at For a free booklet, which contains fish advisories for the entire state, or for additional information about the fish advisories call NYSDOH at 1-800-458-1158. NYSDOH advisories are also available on the Internet: or can be requested by e-mail:

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More Information

NYC Department of Environmental Protection
Public Affairs

59-17 Junction Boulevard
19th Floor
Flushing, NY 11373

(718) 595-6600