Coal Ash Wednesday: Selenium levels in Kentucky fish off the scales

Give a man a fish, poison him just a little:

Despite decades of pollution from the Brown plant, the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife lists Herrington Lake as a great place to catch largemouth bass, crappie, white bass and bluegill. Like every other water body in the state, fish in Herrington Lake are already under an advisory for mercury because of air pollution from coal-fired power plants. But now, state regulators say the power plant’s coal ash pond has poisoned Herrington Lake’s fish in a different way: with selenium.

Nine out of 10 fish tissue samples taken last spring in Herrington Lake exceeded Kentucky’s fish tissue selenium criteria. LG&E and KU were cited for the violation last month and quickly reached an agreement with the state to pay $25,000 in civil penalties and take corrective measures.

Teach a man to fish, and you may be guilty of criminal negligence. Seriously, I just can't understand why fishermen and other outdoor sports enthusiasts aren't beating down the doors of their county/state/national governments to crack down on such pollution. I mean, just the fact you're not supposed to *eat* the fish is bad enough, but the systematic killing-off of fish populations makes the sport of fishing seem about as ridiculous as snipe-hunting:

Belews Lake, North Carolina was contaminated by selenium in wastewater from a coal-fired power plant during the mid-1970s, and toxic impacts to the resident fish community (20 species) were studied for over two decades. Symptoms of chronic selenium poisoning in Belews Lake fish included, (1) telangiectasia (swelling) of gill lamellae; (2) elevated lymphocytes; (3) reduced hematocrit and hemoglobin (anemia); (4) corneal cataracts; (5) exopthalmus (popeye); (6) pathological alterations in liver, kidney, heart, and ovary (e.g. vacuolization of parenchymal hepatocytes, intracapillary proliferative glomerulonephritis, severe pericarditis and myocarditis, necrotic and ruptured mature egg follicles); (7) reproductive failure (reduced production of viable eggs due to ovarian pathology, and post-hatch mortality due to bioaccumulation of selenium in eggs); and (8) teratogenic deformities of the spine, head, mouth, and fins. Important principles of selenium cycling and toxicity were documented in the Belews Lake studies. Selenium poisoning in fish can be 'invisible', because, the primary point of impact is the egg, which receives selenium from the female's diet (whether consumed in organic or inorganic forms), and stores it until hatching, whereupon it is metabolized by the developing fish. If concentrations in eggs are great enough (about 10 microg/g or greater) biochemical functions may be disrupted, and teratogenic deformity and death may occur. Adult fish can survive and appear healthy despite the fact that extensive reproductive failure is occurring--19 of the 20 species in Belews Lake were eliminated as a result of this insidious mode of toxicity. Bioaccumulation in aquatic food chains causes otherwise harmless concentrations of selenium to reach toxic levels, and the selenium in contaminated sediments can be cycled into food chains for decades. The lessons learned from Belews Lake provide information useful for protecting aquatic ecosystems as new selenium issues emerge.

Bolding mine. I've kayaked probably 250-300 nautical miles in Belews Lake, mostly sticking to the shoreline areas to avoid speeding boats, and I've only ever seen someone fishing from a dock one time. Given that he was only about seven years old, I didn't have the heart to tell him he was wasting his time.

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