Report details high mercury levels in fish in 32 Okla. lakes

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ATOKA, OK -- The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is warning people who enjoy fishing in some area lakes, to limit their consumption of the fish they catch.

The Department of Environmental Quality says 32 of Oklahoma's lakes contain fish with mercury levels above those safe for unlimited consumption. Seven of those lakes are right here in Texoma.

It does not mean you can't enjoy the fish you catch, but you do need to be safe when eating them.

Bailey Magby spends a lot of time fishing at Atoka Lake.

"I at least fish a couple times a week. And I eat them at least one time a week," he said.

But Atoka Lake is just one of 32 Oklahoma lakes containing fish with high mercury levels, according to the DEQ. The agency tested this lake back in 2010, during a previous study, and Magby says he remembers hearing about the high mercury levels then.

"It hasn't affected us before and we eat quite a bit of fish. And all our family and all of our friends, I mean, we eat a bunch of fish," he said.

The DEQ's, Jay Wright, says it is ok to eat the fish you catch --- but in limited amounts.

"We want people to continue to fish and we want them to continue to eat the fish they catch, because fish are a healthy meal. But, we want them to be smart and make good informed choices about the fish that they choose to eat, the fish that they choose to feed their families," Wright said.

They recommend no one eat fish caught from these lakes more than twice a month. Women of child-bearing age, pregnant or nursing mothers, and children under 15 years old should be even more cautious.

Too much mercury can harm the nervous system. The first symptoms of mercury poisoning include lack of coordination, and burning or tingling sensation in the fingers and toes As the levels increase, the ability to walk, talk, see or hear can be affected.

The department will continue to test lakes across the state.

"Now, we're going to be going back to some of those bigger lakes now on like a five to seven year schedule and track the mercury, see whether it's increasing or decreasing," Wright said.

Magby says he'll continue to eat the fish in Atoka Lake, but he's glad to know the DEQ is working to keep people safe.

High mercury levels do not affect the lake's safety as a source of drinking water or as a recreation site.

The lakes are: Atoka, Boomer, Canton, Carl Albert, Carl Blackwell, Carlton, Cedar, Clayton, Coalgate City, Draper, Dripping Springs, Elmer Thomas, Eufaula, Heyburn, Hugo, Lloyd Church, McAlester City, Nanih Waiya, Ozzie Cobb, Quanah Parker, Rush, Sardis, Schooler, Skiatook, Talawanda No. 2, Wayne Wallace and Wister; and also the Broken Bow, Fort Supply, Kaw, McGee Creek and Pine Creek reservoirs.

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