DHEC ends mercury contamination study due to budget cuts

Many of you have plans this Fourth of July to spend time on our areas lakes and rivers. But before you start catching fish, you may want to see if there's a mercury advisory in your favorite watering hole.

South Carolina's environmental agency has dropped plans for a major statewide study of mercury contamination in the state's waters and the effect it has on people. The Department of Health and Environmental Control says severe budget cuts are to blame.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick says the campaign would have included taking blood samples from people and tissue samples from fish. Myrick adds they had to prioritize which programs would be funded.

According to DHEC, some mercury pollution comes from coal-fired power plants.

Contaminated fish have been found in more than 1,700 miles of the state's rivers.

Mercury is a toxin and can lead to serious health problems. Overexposure can cause damage to the nervous system, lungs and kidneys.

For some along the Waccamaw River, mercury is a concern.

"If I hear something about it, I'll slack up a little bit in the area they claim it's around, but I mostly fish in ponds," says Connie Watts of Marion.

Laura Brown adds, "It's Omega 3's. Fish is like the best thing you can eat. No, I don't try to limit it."

While the extensive study has been scaled back, that doesn't mean DHEC has stopped testing for high levels of mercury.

They will continue to list advisories related to the issue

Myrick says the agency is working with the South Carolina's Dental Association to help fuel a program that encourage dentists not to use mercury in their practices.

If you're concerned about mercury poisoning you can be tested by your doctor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.