BETHEL — A Maine fisheries biologist said late Tuesday afternoon in Gray that mercury being discharged from a Superfund site into the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire won’t intrinsically affect how Maine manages its trout fishery in the river’s upper section.

Francis Brautigam of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said he wasn’t aware of the Superfund site at the former Chlor-Alkali plant in Berlin, N.H.

“It’s encouraging that some attention is being paid to that discharge,” he said. “It sounds like it’s a good effort.”

Brautigam said he also didn’t know that mercury is still leaking from the site into the Androscoggin or that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will share its cleanup proposals for the plant site at a public meeting on Thursday, May 29, in Berlin.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services will also join the EPA in updating the public about the Chlor-Alkali plant located along the east bank of the river just downstream of Sawmill Dam. The plant was named a federal Superfund site in 2005. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Berlin City Hall at 168 Main St. 

The 4.6-acre property was a chemical plant that supported the production of paper in local mills from the late 1800s until the early 1960s, in addition to other products.

Elemental mercury and other contaminants from the historical manufacture of chlorine continue to migrate from the site and into the Androscoggin River, the EPA stated.

Beads of mercury can be seen seeping into the river from cracks in the bedrock on the site’s edge.

Brautigam said the Androscoggin already has protections in place in New Hampshire and the more heavily fished Upper Androscoggin River from the Maine-New Hampshire state line in Gilead to Davis Park in Bethel.

These include “a very strong catch-and-release ethic,” “fairly stringent” fish-harvesting laws and “very stringent” fish consumption advisories. 

The EPA narrative for the Chlor-Alkali facility states that the Androscoggin is designated “catch-and-release” from Berlin downstream to the Maine border.

“Fishermen who disregard this designation and eat fish caught in the river could be exposed to elevated levels of mercury, which is highly toxic,” the narrative states.

New Hampshire’s fish consumption guidelines provide eating limits for mercury-laden fish, but then state that no fish should be eaten from the Androscoggin River from Berlin to the Maine border due to potential dioxin contamination.

To view the guidelines, visit des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/ard/documents/ard-ehp-25.pdf.

Maine’s advisory states that pregnant and nursing women, women who may become pregnant and children under age 8 should not eat any freshwater fish from Maine’s inland waters, except one meal per month of brook trout or landlocked salmon.

All other adults and children older than 8 can eat two freshwater fish meals per month, but for brook trout and landlocked salmon, the limit is one meal per week, the advisory states.

It goes on to say that fish in Maine lakes, ponds and rivers have mercury in them. Other states have the same problem.

Mercury builds up in fish. For this reason, older fish have higher levels of mercury than younger fish. Fish (like pickerel and bass) that eat other fish have the highest mercury levels, the advisory states.

To view the whole advisory, visit www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/eohp/fish/2kfca.htm.

Brautigam said that if mercury accumulates in fish at high enough levels, it would affect key organs like the kidneys and liver, as well as harming reproductive abilities and the viability and quality of eggs, like it does in other forms of wildlife.

Additionally, Brautigam said he didn’t think that any trout in the Androscoggin or tributaries that empty into the Androscoggin in the Berlin area would make it to Maine.

“There are a lot of dams up there and 15 miles of river,” he said. “I don’t imagine fish up there would want to come all the way down to Maine.”

Brautigam said New Hampshire does stock fish in the Androscoggin at the state line and in the Peabody River.

“Some of these fish may drop down, but I don’t think we’re seeing much,” he said. “Most anglers target wild trout in the tributaries where there are no ongoing sources of a fair amount of heavy metals.”

Brautigam said MDIFW will manage the Upper Androscoggin River trout fishery according to its new plan, which can be found on the department’s website, www.maine.gov/ifw.

He said they try to manage fisheries around obstacles, and contaminants in a watershed would be one such obstacle. He said the issue came up when they were creating the Upper Androscoggin plan.

“It used to be that people fished because they like to eat fish, but that’s changed now,” Brautigam said.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.