When the State's annual warning about contaminated fish came out in 2005, 13 lakes and rivers around the state were listed as "hotspots" where kids and women who might want to have children in the future should avoid eating the fish. The problem is mercury contamination, which comes from coal-burning power plants. Mercury is present in coal, and when it is burned to make electricity, it vaporizes and goes up the smokestack into the clouds.
What goes up must come down, and for several years the Illinois Department of Public Health has warned women and children to limit the large fish they eat from ALL Illinois waters due to mercury pollution. The "hotspots" registered even higher levels of fish contamination. Mercury poisoning affects 1 out of 6 American kids, causing brain and other nervous system damage.
One of the 13 "hotspots" is Lake in the Hills, at the center of a fast-growing suburb of the same name in southeastern McHenry County. With no significant industry for miles around, Lake in the Hills is the last place you would expect to find fish that could hurt your kids' brains. It's a powerful example of the cost of coal plant pollution.
This Saturday, Sierra Club volunteers went door to door in the neighborhoods around Lake in the Hills with some information about the state's advisory, to try to protect kids by informing their parents about the risks of eating fish from the lake. Volunteers also distributed a postcard that residents could send to Governor Blagojevich, thanking him for challenging a federal proposal to weaken limits on mercury pollution, and urging him to do better by requiring strict pollution controls on Illinois coal-fired power plants.
Residents were not surprised, in general, to learn of the mercury contamination, and most welcomed the chance to be a part of the solution to the problem. Volunteers met fishermen worried about the safety of their catch, moms who wanted to know what was safe for their kids, and local officials who are looking out for the lake.
If the people of Lake in the Hills have their way, Illinois will soon act to require pollution controls for mercury on our coal plants.
For more information on the State's mercury pollution warning: