Federation stresses mercury problem

The S.C. Wildlife Federation says the state's environmental protection agency should be doing more to protect people and the landscape from mercury, a toxin that has polluted fish across the Lowcountry.

Officials with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said this week the agency will launch a study on the effects of mercury pollution, but it will be smaller than planned because of state budget cuts. DHEC says it has lost about $40 million from its budget.

"Increasing levels of mercury in the environment have been building up in both fish and humans for decades," Wildlife Federation director Ben Gregg said. "It's time to get serious."

For now, the study will be limited to areas around Florence, because mercury contamination is high in the area. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment, but can also collect in rivers and lakes from the burning of coal. People who eat fish containing mercury can get sick.