Mercury levels still a concern for U.P. Lake

TORCH LAKE — The waters in and around Torch Lake are improving but there are still many concerns that need to be addressed.

That was the message at a public meeting Wednesday hosted by the Houghton-Keweenaw Conservation District. Two ongoing Beneficial Use Impairments (BUI) are fish consumption advisories and the health of the benthos, the biological community at the bottom of the lake.

Recent studies have shown the waters in the Western U.P. have about 20 percent higher mercury levels than those downstate, a remnant of the area’s mining history. And there is an unusually high concentration in Torch Lake. Experts say roughly half the fish in the lake are not fit for human consumption.

MTU Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Charles Kerfoot said, “Given the new EPA standards, that, in fact, anything about 0.95 parts per million should not be consumed, that’s half of the walleye and the pike that should not be consumed.”

Fish smaller than 22 inches can be eaten as long as the public follows certain guidelines to limit their consumption.

Torch Lake Watershed Project Manager Meral Jackson said, “We can eat fish safely but we have to know how much, which species and which sizes are the best to eat.”

Fish consumption guidelines can be found by contacting the Western U.P. Health Department or by clicking HERE.