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Anglers' alert: Even backcountry trout aren't immune to pollution's long arm

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Anglers' alert: Even backcountry trout aren't immune to pollution's long arm


February 28, 2008 / ESPN

Backcasts,Brett Pauly



You ever read a headline and respond, "Oh, great"? Audibly? On the bus? And then have strangers look at you? Then look at you again?


Happened to me yesterday morning on the 7:36 into the Emerald City.


The words that prompted my oh-great moment: "'Pristine' parks tainted by pollution."


I can't really explain why those five words caught me off-guard. I should have seen it coming. But it was really the awful alliteration of pristine-parks-pollution that threw me. Even kids who play the Sesame Street word game "One of These Things is Not Like the Other Things" could pluck the offending term from that grouping.


I couldn't even kill the messenger. The Seattle Times was merely reporting the news – that a comprehensive study proves pesticides, heavy metals and other airborne contaminants have found their evil way to even the most remote corners of our national parks.


Here in the Evergreen State, according to the newspaper, the national parks of the Olympics, Mount Rainier and North Cascades contain pesticides, mercury and man-made industrial chemicals.


The six-year federal study released this week was coordinated by the National Park Service, and, the Associated Press reports from Billings, Mont., the findings revealed that some of the Earth's most pristine wilderness is still within reach of the toxic byproducts of the industrial age.


Ouch. So, yeah, those trout you caught in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park and Glacier National Park and the farthest stretches of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks could well have been impacted by chemical pollution.


You probably weren't aware of it, but the male fish you landed could have had female ovary tissue in their testes. Fortunately, however, you likely aren't worse for wear; the National Park Service maintains there is minimal risk of anglers getting sick from eating contaminated fish, the Times reports …


Even if you ate brook trout that tested out at Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks to contain mercury at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency threshold. Even if you ate those same brook trout every day, for your entire life, you might have a one-in-100,000 chance of getting cancer from them.


But the bottom line is, you might – might enough that national parks are considering issuing warnings to anglers, and that sucks.


Who would have thunk Denali National Park in our Last Frontier could ever be touched by such pollutants?


"Contaminants are everywhere. You can't get more remote than these northern parts of Alaska and the high Rockies," said Michael Kent, a fish researcher with Oregon State University who co-authored the study, the AP reports.


Yep, depressing as it is, evidence of 70 contaminants in 20 national parks and monuments is outlined in the $6 million study known as the Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project. Much of this pollution originates regionally on farms and in factories and from more-distant sources such as power plants, according to the Times.

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