Assembly Natural Resources Committee hearing today

MADISON — Today, the state Assembly Natural Resources Committee heard testimony regarding Assembly Bill 299 and Senate Bill 200, a vital piece of legislation that will protect Wisconsin’s waterways and the health of state citizens from the toxic effects of mercury.

“This bill, which prohibits the sale of nonessential household and industrial products containing toxic mercury, will help preserve our environment, our economy, our fishing tradition and the health of our families,” says Amber Meyer Smith, program director for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization.

One way people are exposed to mercury is by eating fish that live in polluted waters. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health Services currently list every inland body of water in the state under a fish consumption advisory because of mercury pollution; these advisories suggest limits to the number and kind of fish safe for consumption, especially for children and women of childbearing age. Household and industrial products currently pollute our air and water with over 6,600 pounds of mercury annually.

Chronic exposure to mercury results in memory loss, speech difficulties, troubles with vision, and cardiovascular problems in adults. Children and the unborn exposed to mercury can face neurological damage that impairs development, leads to low intelligence and inhibits school performance. Additionally, the EPA estimates that one in six women of childbearing age have high levels of mercury in their blood that are unsafe for a developing fetus.

Reducing mercury pollution does more than protect our health and the health of our families; it also preserves our economy by protecting the $2.3 billion fishing industry which directly employs more than 25,000 individuals. Wisconsin mercury products regulation currently lags behind neighboring states.

The committee heard testimony from a variety of supporters, including children’s advocates, health advocates, tribes, fishing and hunting groups, and mercury reduction advocates. This legislation, which was introduced by Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Representative Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau), now moves to a committee vote.

“Mercury pollution currently represents a serious threat to our fishing industry and to the public health of Wisconsin,” says Smith. “We encourage the state Legislature to act quickly on this important step forward.”