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Charlotte Area News

Enviro group to test Mt. Island Lake for contaminants

An environmental group will do its own survey of water quality and fish contamination in the Charlotte region's main drinking source this week. Nearly a million of us in the Charlotte area get our drinking water from Mountain Island Lake. It's also a popular fishing spot, so water quality officials routinely test to make sure the lake is safe for drinking and swimming. Testing the fish for contamination happens much less frequently. For example, the most recent public information about fish testing in the lake dates back to 2001. One environmental group believes the public needs more information. "We want to know now," says David Merryman of the Catawba Riverkeeper. "We want to know what's in the fish we're eating. What's in the water we drink and what gets stirred up in the sediments we're swimming in." Merryman has organized a team of volunteers to sample the water, sediment and fish on Mountain Island Lake this week focusing mainly on heavy metals like mercury and a dangerous chemical called PCB. State health officials have already warned that mercury exists in all of North Carolina's rivers and lakes. In 2001, the federal EPA also found PCBs in large fish at Mountain Island Lake. But the levels were not high enough to warrant a state health advisory. Merryman says there's reason to believe the problem is worse today because heavy metals and PCBs tend to linger in soil and water and accumulate in predators higher on the food chain, such as large mouth bass. Merryman says coal ash ponds operated by Duke Energy near the lake are another likely source of contaminants. He says the results of this week's sampling will be released within 25 days. It often takes state and federal agencies months, if not years, to report results because of government protocol and limited manpower.