Candy and George Gonzalez, who are the president and secretary of the Belize Environmental Institute of Law and Policy (BELPO), told Amandala today that latest official information provided to them at the end of 2013 indicates that mercury levels of bay snook (Petenia splendida) and other local fish caught in the Macal, are still above the safe levels and people in the area should take heed to the health risks, such as mercury poisoning, which could come from eating such fish.
They said that it is not just the fish that is the problem, but an increase in rashes and stomach ailments from contact with the river water – either through swimming in the water or imbibing it.
BELPO president Candy Gonzalez said that the E. coli level in the water was so high that nobody should drink the water or be in the water.
“People should know about the water. This is water that the people drink, Gonzalez said.
On Tuesday, Amandala spoke with John Bodden, Senior Public Health Inspector, on the issue; and he told us that they have no current data and are awaiting official information from the Department of the Environment (DoE).
Amandala was made to understand from an official of the DoE that since the Chalillo project is more than five years old, data reports on mercury levels are now provided once annually. The most recent data we have seen dates back to May 2013, and indicates that indeed, the mercury level of the snook is above normal.
This has been a concern for several years. For example, in June 2010, a scientific analysis recorded a mercury level in the bay snook of 1.34 mg/kg—almost three times the recommended limits for consumption. The level has since subsided, but remains above the permitted level.
Gonzalez said that because of comments from the DoE that the mercury level in the fish had gone down, people got a false sense of comfort that they could eat the fish.
The DoE confirms that area residents should continue to be careful about eating much fish from the river; however, we could not get any information on exactly how many ounces of snook per week is safe for an average person.
Health authorities have suggested other foods useful for replacing the Omega acids lost as a consequence of reduced fish consumption. They include flaxseed, pumpkin (pepitos), sesame (wangla seed), sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, avocados, spinach or collards greens, oils from flaxseed, corn, olive and soybean, and omega acid supplements.
Gonzalez said that BELPO had gotten Guy R. Lanza, Ph.D., Aquatic Ecologist/Environmental Microbiologist at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York (SUNY), to prepare a report based on the data. That report, she said, was provided to the Minister of Health, the CEO in the Ministry of Health and the office responsible for health services, who said that the data provided over the years “are best characterized as vague and incomplete, and thus of very limited value in interpreting the state of the water quality at the sample sites, and the real risk to the public health of water users and the natural biota.”
The BELPO reps also said that due to a decline in river tourism, which they said has come as a consequence of the hydro facilities on the Macal, there have been economic impacts which have exacerbated the crime situation.