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Sep 18, 2019

Increased Mercury Levels in the Macal River; Fish Not Safe for Consumption

The New River up north is contaminated and is having negative effects on the population, though there are signs that the river is recovering.  In the west, increased levels of mercury have been detected in the Macal River near Cristo Rey. It means that fish and other forms of aquatic life have been affected.  The Ministry of Health says that three species are showing elevated levels and not safe for consumption. Here is News Five’s Duane Moody.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Bay snook, botasi and cichlid are popularly consumed fish out west in villages like Cristo Rey and others along the Macal River in the Cayo District. But that subsistence, when eaten over an extended period of time and in large quantities, can have adverse effects on humans, especially children and pregnant mothers. That is because the river fish has been contaminated with mercury.


John Bodden

John Bodden, Principal Public Health Inspector, Ministry of Health

“The bay snook, the cichlid and the botasi; those are all fish that are eaten by local communities along the river system.”


The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Department of Environment and the Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL) recently completed another assessment of the mercury levels in fishes from the Macal, Mopan, Belize, Rio Grande and New Rivers. The results show that in three of the eighteen species of fish that were sampled and tested, the mercury levels were high. Those samples with elevated mercury were collected from the Macal River specifically near Cristo Rey Village, Cayo; the fishes from the other four rivers had acceptable levels.


John Bodden

“This assessment was done in relation to the mandate from the court with regards to the compliance to the ECP for BECOL and there was an agreement for us to monitor the level of mercury specifically for the Bay Snook fish coming from that river source. It has been some years, more than twelve years that we have been monitoring that river system and fish that come from it.  Samples were collected in April and of course this was over a period, from the ninth to the twenty-sixth. The Fisheries Department collected over seven hundred and seventeen different fish from eighteen species along the river system. Of all those that were tested and the testing was done within the period of sixteenth to seventeenth May and the laboratory confirmed that three of the species had elevated mercury, which is above zero point five milligrams per kilogram.”


But what are the effects of consuming the affected fish?


John Bodden

“Primarily it is neurological but one of the things you have to remember is that the impact is not immediate; it is over a long time period. So a lot of it is neurological when you talk about the sensory organs and those sorts of things. But it impacts, when we talk about people in the community, pregnant women and children. Those are the group of people that are highly impacted.”


Residents are recommended to eat limited portions of each fish. Principal Public Health Inspector John Bodden shares replacement options for the omega fatty acids that may be lost from the diet by not eating fish.


John Bodden

“We are recommending that people do not eat more than one point seven ounces of fish from those to be in the safe zone. In terms of botasi and the cichlid which comes from the upper dam area, the botasi no more than four point seven ounces and the cichlid; two point eight ounces. So those are the recommendations that we have issued to the public. One of the first things we are asking the people to do is eat fish from the other river sources, so not from the Macal River. We can also eat replacement foods such as local chicken, we have the pumpkin seed and wangla seed. Also nuts, cashew nuts, avocado as well as spinach can provide replacement in terms for the loss.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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