GOVERNMENT OF BELIZE
Ministry of Health and Environment
Challilo E I A Find Various Level of Mercury in Fish
Belmopan - 25 August, 2006
The Environmental Impact Assessment Study for the Challilo Hydroloelectricity Generation Project documented various levels of mercury in fish species from the Macal River between San Ignacio/Santa Elena Town and the Project Site. This was communicated by project developer representatives (BECOL) to local residents at a Public Hearing session during the consultation process of the Project (February 2003). As a result of this, local authorities, environmental NGOs and residents have expressed their concern to national authorities (Ministry of Health and the Department of the Environment) on the effect that mercury may have on human health since fish from this river are part of the dietary intake of local residents.
In response to these concerns, the Ministry of Health along with the Department of the Environment and the Fisheries Department, with cooperation of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) conducted a study in January 2005 whose objective was an assessment of the concentration of mercury in selected fish species from the Macal River, the Mopan River and the Sibun River. This was done to ensure that the necessary actions to mitigate health impacts that the presence of mercury in the fish life may have on the population in general were put in place.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization put the Maximum allowed/recommended levels of mercury in fish at 1.0 mg/g for predatory fish and 0.5 mg/g for all fish except predatory fish. The January, 2005 study results were below those levels.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization Expert Committee puts the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake of mercury at 1.6 ug/kg bw or 0.23 ug/kg/day.
The public is informed that mercury occurs naturally in the environment as a result of natural processes, including the decomposition of vegetable matter.
Even though the results of the study are below the Maximum allowed/recommended levels, persons of 150 pounds or less in weight are advised to consume not more than 206 grams or 7.2 ounces of Bay Snook per week that were caught from the Macal River.
As part of the Environmental Clearance Plan that was issued to BECOL by the Department of the Environment and to be monitored by the Department of the Environment, BECOL is to develop a “Mercury Risk Management Program” to monitor mercury levels in fish from the river between the reservoir and downstream from Mollejon. BECOL is also to develop an information program to explain the health risks associated with the consumption of fish containing mercury and this is to be disseminated to the local population.
For more information on safe weekly intake of mercury-containing fish, contact your local Public Health Office.