- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota officials aren’t doing enough to protect the public from toxins in the St. Louis River, according to environmentalists and the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was expected to respond to the criticism through two of the state’s top scientists at a forum Thursday night in Duluth. They planned to explain how the state is dealing with toxic mercury in the river’s walleye, bass and northern pike.

“We haven’t run away from anything,” said Shannon Lotthammer, who heads the agency’s environmental analysis division. “We are continuing to pursue the scientific questions around this . It needs to be solved.”

The state decided to go it alone in its mercury studies after pulling out of a federally funded research project to get rid of mercury in fish from the St. Louis River.

The Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1qNwb5c ) reports state health officials said that despite advisories against eating too much of the river’s fish, mercury has been found at unsafe levels in the blood of 1 in 10 infants on the north shore of Lake Superior. About 1 in 100 infants have levels of mercury in their blood high enough to cause neurological harm.

“The kids in this area are getting a dangerous load of mercury,” said Len Anderson, who’s scheduled to speak at the Duluth forum.

The retired biology teacher and activist, who lives along the St. Louis River, said he believes the state’s decision to independently research mercury levels was made to protect mining companies and other industries that pollute the watershed with sulfate, which helps turn mercury into the form that accumulates in fish.

“The profits of these industries are more important than protecting the brains of these babies,” Anderson said.

Lotthammer said such accusations are baseless and frustrating. Minnesota pulled out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s nearly $1 million four-year effort because its model was “simplistic,” according to state scientists.

“They all say it’s sulfates,” Lotthammer said. “We know that sulfate is a factor, but it’s not the only factor.”

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency researchers are currently studying a variety of potential factors that may lead to the conversion and buildup of mercury in fish, she said.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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