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Mercury in Rogue River, other streams might need cleanup, state says

The Rogue River and about a dozen other Oregon rivers are poised to join the state's growing list of mercury-impaired waters poised for future cleanups and other efforts to reduce levels of this toxic pollutant.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has proposed adding the entire 216 miles of the Rogue River — including the main stem upstream of Lost Creek Lake — as well as Emigrant Creek to the dubious list of water bodies with high level of mercury in resident fish.

The findings also are expected to lead to future public-health advisories limiting the amounts of fish people eat from Rogue Basin waters. The limits won't include the Rogue's famed salmon and steelhead, which don't accumulate mercury in their bodies like other fish do, toxicologists say.

Tests on non-native pikeminnow collected from the Rogue in 2010 near what used to be Gold Ray Dam and Robertson Bridge in Josephine County showed levels more than 10 times above the state's water-quality standards for toxic pollutants.

If adopted later this year, the designation would lead to state DEQ scientists to determine what levels of mercury in the Rogue are safe and develop a plan to get the there — and address any natural or artificial sources of mercury.

The DEQ chose to sample pikeminnow, which generally are not consumed by humans, because they are resident fish that help provide a snapshot of the basin's water quality, said Bill Meyers, the DEQ's Rogue Basin coordinator.

— Mark Freeman