Monday, July 21, 2014

Mercury in Fish: When Catch-and-Release Is Good for You, Too

By: Amy Dickey

Summertime in Utah means hiking, biking, barbeques, fireworks and…fishing! Warm summer days mean more folks are out fishing at Utah’s blue-ribbon streams, high-alpine lakes, reservoirs and urban ponds. Many anglers eat what they catch, which is a good thing, since fish provides important vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids that people need for a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, when fishing spots become polluted, your catch may also become contaminated with high concentrations of mercury and other harmful chemicals. Fortunately, Utah has a statewide program that monitors mercury levels in fish and issues advisories to let people know when fish at a particular location are unsafe to eat.

Image Credit: Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs,
Department of Environmental Protection
Mercury is a naturally occurring element in our air, soil and water. Atmospheric mercury makes its way into water bodies through rain or snow (wet deposition), or the settling of gases and particles from the air (dry deposition). Other sources of mercury include storm water and industrial discharges. Bacteria in the soils and sediments at the bottom of lakes and streams convert naturally occurring mercury into a more toxic form known as methylmercury. Unlike elemental mercury, methylmercury bioaccumulates in organisms, becoming more concentrated in their bodies the more they ingest. Methylmercury also biomagnifies, meaning organisms contain more of the toxin the higher up they are in the food chain.

Mercury acts as a neurotoxin and has the potential to damage the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are at risk because methylmercury impacts fetal development and passes from mother to child through breast milk. Young children are also at higher risk because their nervous systems are still developing.

Public health officials in Utah issue fish advisories when mercury levels in fish reach unsafe levels. These advisories provide recommendations on how much of a particular type of fish is safe to eat. Anglers can look up this information by county, waterbody, or fish species on the Utah Fish Advisory website.

The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) has teamed with the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and Utah Department of Health (UDOH) to develop collection plans, catch and sample fish, analyze the data, and determine consumption values. Since the Utah program began, more than 3,500 fish have been collected from 280 sites throughout the state, with consumption advisories issued at 23 locations for 13 different fish species.

It’s important to keep in mind that just eight percent of the sites sampled warranted consumption advisories. So remember: You can eat fish—just choose wisely. Know the locations of advisories and the species they include. And enjoy yourself at your favorite lake or reservoir—there are no known health risks associated with swimming and boating in waterbodies with advisories.

Going fishing? Check out the state’s fish advisory website for more information on advisory locations, fish species and recommended consumption amounts. EPA’s Mercury website has additional information about fish consumption, health effects and the ways people can be exposed to mercury. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration recently issued Draft Advice on mercury levels in fish that can help you make informed choices before you purchase fish at a grocery store or restaurant.

I have worked with the Utah Division of Water Quality for 13 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Environmental Studies. When I'm not working, I love to get outside and enjoy all that Utah has to offer. I especially enjoy camping with my husband and two kids.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why Do I Bike? Clean Air and Exercise—but Mostly It Makes Me Happy

By: Tom Daniels

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of posts—published every Wednesday during July—of what DEQ employees are doing to reduce emissions during the 2014 Clear the Air Challenge.

It’s 5 a.m. I stumble to the bathroom, run water through my hair, brush my teeth and get dressed: shorts, jersey, gloves, jacket and shoes; shoulder on my back pack, grab my lunch and stumble downstairs.

There’s my ride: 15 pounds of carbon fiber and titanium. My day is instantly better.

Two miles in 7 minutes to the Ogden bus stop. I throw my bike on the bus and relax for the hour ride in to work at DEQ.

My first “real” bike was a Motobecane. It had a brazed frame and bar end shifters. It was fast and light. My first ride up Emigration had me out of breath and sore. Biking took a back seat to college, marriage and kids. When I started at DEQ in 1995 I weighed over 215 pounds. It wasn’t until my car engine blew that I picked up my bike again, because it cost more to repair than the car was worth, and well, I had a bike.

Back then it was a 10-mile commute from my Murray house to the Salt Lake office. I was heavy, out of shape, and frankly I SUCKED! In 1996, mountain biking made its debut in the Atlanta Olympics. Tinker Juarez was 5 years older than me, slaughtering kids 10-to-15 years younger than him. I figured if Tinker could do it, so could I. It took the entire summer to get in shape. After 2 years living in Ogden, I dropped to 165 pounds, where it has stayed for the last 15 years.

It’s 5 p.m. I change, fill my water bottles, grab my back pack and retrieve my bike. There is a slight headwind so I tuck down to reduce my resistance and bring my cadence up. I feel the wind passing over me, the road beneath me, my legs are churning, and my lungs are starting to burn. All I hear is the thrum of the road beneath my tires, and the chain moving through the derailleur.

In 20 minutes I’m at Legacy Parkway where I meet up with another rider and we start working together. Our speed and cadence increase as we take turns pulling for each other, and the miles quickly disappear.

At Farmington Station I peel off, hop on Highway 89 and start climbing through Fruit Heights, Cherry Lane then onto the Weber River Divide, hitting 45 mph on that descent. One last climb in Ogden in 1:52—not bad for a 35 mile-ride home with 18 miles of climbs.

I have ridden in rain, snow, hail and temperatures ranging from -17°F to 113°F. I am on my third road bike, having literally ridden the wheels off of two others. I have been hit by a car on three different occasions. I have had three concussions, two broken thumbs, a broken elbow and shoulder surgery. People ask why I ride. Biking saves money, energy and pollution. It also has helped me lose weight and keep it off. But that is not why I ride.

I bike because it doesn’t matter how tired, angry, frustrated I get throughout the day. When I get on my bike, it evaporates into the ether. I have had hard rides and easy rides, rides that have pushed me farther than I ever thought I would go, but in the end, there has never been a bad ride.

Biking makes me happy. That is why I ride.

There are many great reasons to ride a bike. During this month’s “Clear the Air Challenge,” you can keep track of vehicle miles saved by bicycling or commuting using transit. Visit to register and participate. And come back to this blog to continue the conversation about biking.

I am a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Utah. I work as an environmental engineer for the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation in the Superfund Section. I also teach a spin class at Weber State.


Monday, July 14, 2014

SUCCESS: New Tech Speeds Up X-ray Inspections

By: Rusty Lundberg

When you’re sitting in the dental chair, you’re probably more concerned about cavities than the X-rays your dentist uses to detect them. It’s easy to forget that dental and medical X-rays deliver the majority of our exposure to manmade radiation. New radiation survey meters used by Division of Radiation Control (DRC) inspectors have shortened the time it takes to check this kind of X-ray equipment, improving operational efficiencies and safeguarding patients from unnecessary radiation exposure from these procedures.

Our X-ray inspection program ensures that facilities with X-ray equipment in Utah have an effective radiation safety program that keeps patient exposure to radiation As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). Our inspectors make sure that each X-ray unit performs properly and produces high quality images that provide accurate diagnostic information while minimizing exposure.

Original 1970's X-ray survey equipment.
Back in the 1970’s, the Food and Drug Administration provided us with our original “gold standard” survey equipment. While it provided extremely high-quality results, this survey meter was heavy and bulky, required two separate pieces of equipment, and took considerable time to set up. Our new survey meter is a significantly smaller device that takes five measurements during one exposure—compared with three exposures using two different survey tools to get the same measurements with the old equipment. The shorter set-up time for the new machine also lets us get the first exposure in less than one minute. Total inspection time has been reduced by approximately 20 minutes.

Americans are exposed to more than seven times as much radiation from medical procedures than they were twenty years ago. While this increase in radiation exposure from medical procedures and diagnostics can improve health outcomes, it highlights the need for regular inspections to confirm that doses of radiation are as low as possible. Increased access to healthcare, along with projected population growth in the state, will lead to more diagnostic X-ray procedures, facilities, and X-ray units that will require inspection. Shortening the time to perform inspections will help DRC keep up with this increased need.

DRC Director Rusty Lundberg holding a
new, smaller X-ray survey device.
Under our continuous improvement process, our division is always looking for ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our inspection program. We are currently exploring the use of hand-held devices that inspectors can take into the field to fill out inspection reports. This would reduce time spent filling out duplicate forms and give our inspectors more time to answer questions medical professionals may have about their X-ray equipment or precautions they may want to take for sensitive populations.

Want to learn more about medical X-ray imaging? The Food and Drug Administration website provides information about the benefits and risks of X-rays along with questions you can ask your health care provider about the diagnostic and therapeutic use of X-rays. The Health Physics Society offers a Fact Sheet that explains the types of medical procedures that use radiation along with typical doses. Our X-ray staff is always happy to answer your questions about X-ray safety. Give us a call at 801-536-4250.

I am the Director of the Division of Radiation Control and have been a t DEQ for 29 years, most of that time in the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology—probably because I've always enjoyed a good summer thunderstorm. I enjoy various outdoor activities such as running, hiking, as well as yard work. I also enjoy an occasional fun run with other family members or spending time together while traveling.