TDEC: 122 river miles contain bacteria that is unsafe for fishing, swimming

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A report released by the Tennessee Division of Water Resources contains a long list of East Tennessee waterways that have been deemed unsafe for fishing, swimming or recreational activities due to high levels of potentially harmful bacteria.

The report states that streams or lakes found to have high levels of bacteria will have clearly visible signs posted to warn people of any threat to public health.

"The presence of pathogens, disease-causing organisms, affects the
public’s ability to safely swim, wade, and fish in streams and reservoirs.
Pathogen sources include failing septic tanks, collection system failure,
failing animal waste systems, or urban runoff," says the report. " About 122 river miles are posted due to bacterial contamination."

In addition, Approximately 124,000 reservoir acres and 368 river miles are currently posted due to contaminated fish. This means that no fish should be consumed from the waterways listed in the report.

TDEC said that anyone who chooses to consume fish from the areas should follow this list of precautions in order to reduce the risk of health problems:

1. Throwback the big ones. Smaller fish generally have lower concentrations of contaminants.

2. Avoid fatty fish. Organic carcinogens such as DDT, PCBs, and dioxin accumulate in fatty tissue. Large carp and catfish tend to have more fat than game fish. Moreover, the feeding habits of carp, sucker, buffalo, and catfish tend to expose them to the sediments, where contaminants are concentrated. In contrast, however, mercury tends to accumulate in muscle tissue and will tend to concentrate in higher levels in game fish.

3. Wash fish before cleaning. Some contaminants are concentrated in the mucus, so fish should be washed before they are skinned and filleted.
4. Broil or grill your fish. These cooking techniques allow the fat to drip away. Frying seals the fat and contaminants into the food.

5. Throw away the fat if the pollutant is PCBs, dioxin, chlordane or other
organic contaminants. Organic pesticides tend to accumulate in fat tissue, so cleaning the fish so the fat is discarded will provide some protection from these contaminants.

6. If the pollutant is mercury, do not eat the fish. Fish from the North Fork Holston and East Fork Poplar Creek are likely to be contaminated with mercury, which is concentrated in the muscle tissue. Therefore, the best choice is to totally avoid eating this fish. It is very important that children not eat fish contaminated with mercury. Many developmental problems in children have been linked to elevated mercury levels.

For the full list of affected waterways and the entire report click here.