Mercury watch

Graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno testing water from the Wild Horse Reservoir in northern Elko County have detected mercury in its waters, prompting Great Basin Mine Watch to ask state health officials to do more testing.

“We’re not calling for advisories,” said GBMW director Dan Randolph. “We’re calling for a study to determine if there should be advisories.”

Advisories have been issued by Utah and Idaho state governments warning against eating fish from bodies of water because of mercury suspected of coming from Nevada mining operations in the same section of the state as Wild Horse.

In a letter to state health administrator Alex Haartz, Randolph and several other health, sport, and environmental groups wrote, “This summer, four fish tissue samples were collected from fishermen at Wild Horse Reservoir. All four samples were yellow perch ranging in size from 6-8 inches. … Mercury analyses of the perch revealed high mercury concentrations, ranging from 0.42 to 0.55 ppm. … According to guidelines established by the EPA for noncommercial fish, these concentrations pose a health risk to the public, particularly to children and pregnant women.”

In a statement, Betty Razor of the Nevada Nurses Association said, “Mercury is particularly troublesome because it ‘bio-accumulates’ or increases in concentrations as it moves up the food chain. Thus, large predatory fish tend to have higher concentrations of mercury.”

Wild Horse is 67 miles north of Elko on State Route 225. Mountain City and the Owyhee tribal reservation are between the Idaho border and the reservoir, which is a popular fishing and picnicking site.

Randolph said the graduate students who did the testing prefer not to be publicly identified, so they could not be contacted for comment.