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Mercury & Lead

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Mercury in the Environment

Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that has contaminated waterbodies worldwide. Mercury is emitted to the atmosphere through burning of fossil fuels, trash and medical waste. When it is deposited in watersheds, it transforms into methylmercury, which is highly toxic and easily enters the food web. Methylmercury can become particularly concentrated in large, carnivorous fish.

Mercury and Health

Mercury has been found at levels exceeding health guidelines in freshwater fish in many lakes and ponds in the northeast. Women who are pregnant and young children should select fish with low levels of mercury. Brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and yellow perch have lower mercury levels, as does store-bought “light” tuna. Walleye, smallmouth bass, and chain pickerel show the highest concentrations of mercury along with store-bought swordfish and shark. Please see the Health Department’s website ( or the mercury website ( for the most current advisory.

Let’s Get the Lead Out!

It is illegal to use lead sinkers weighing one-half ounce or less.

Loons and some other water birds can die from lead poisoning after swallowing lead fishing sinkers and jigs lost by anglers, accounting for up to 50 percent of dead adult loons. You can help by switching to non-lead fishing tackle and by helping to spread the word for others to do the same. Lead is the leading cause of observed loon deaths here in the Northeast.

What can you do to help?

  • Use non-lead fishing weights.
  • Spread the word. Tell other anglers about the problem and encourage them to switch to non-lead alternatives.
  • Remove lead sinkers and jigs from your tacklebox.

Other ways to help loons:

  • Remove spent fishing line and other materials from Vermont waters and shorelines to reduce entanglement, another major cause of loon deaths.
  • Maintain a respectful distance from loons and other wild animals. Use binoculars to get a great view.
  • Observe and report loon sightings and nest activities, but do not approach a nest.
  • Participate in the annual Vermont Loon Watch on the third Saturday in July. For information contact Eric Hanson at 802-856-8064 or email
  • Support continuing loon and other nongame wildlife management efforts by donating to the Vermont Nongame Wildlife Fund on your Vermont income tax form or on hunting and fishing license applications.
  • Buy Vermont Conservation License Plates for your vehicle.
  • Learn about loons at

Preventing Human Lead Exposure from Fishing Sinkers

Some fishing sinkers contain lead which is toxic when eaten, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin.

In order to prevent exposure to lead, please handle lead sinkers with care and use the following guidelines:

  • Switch to sinkers that do not contain lead. Alternatives to lead sinkers are made of steel, bismuth, tungsten, resin and glass.
  • Wash hands with soap after holding or using lead sinkers
  • Never put lead sinkers in your mouth.
  • Never handle or eat food immediately after handling lead sinkers unless hands have been washed with soap first.
  • Take proper precautions when melting lead and pouring sinkers at home.

If you suspect lead poisoning in your child or yourself, call:

Vermont Department of Health
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
800-439-8550 or 802-865-7786

For a screening, public information and technical assistance, contact:

The National Lead Information Center

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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