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State Turns Down Proposal for Mercury Study in Great Salt Lake

State Turns Down Proposal for Mercury Study in Great Salt Lake

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An environmental group says the state has denied it a permit to study potential mercury contamination in fish in the Great Salt Lake watershed.

State officials said they plan a more comprehensive study.

Jeff Salt, executive director of the Great Salt Lakekeeper group, said the denial was "a move designed to keep Utah's citizens from finding out about mercury levels in local fish."

The organization wanted to collect fish samples from the lake's watershed for mercury testing. It planned to use anglers from sport fishing groups to catch up to 2,075 fish from 83 waterways in a four-state, 35,000-square-mile area.

According to Salt, the Utah Department of Natural Resources questioned the reliability of the plan and said the project could be counterproductive.

"That's absolutely ludicrous," Salt said. "They just don't want citizens out collecting scientific information that might make them look bad."

Robin Thomas, spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said the department is part of a mercury work group and is working with other state and federal agencies to decide how the state will collect, monitor and evaluate fish samples for mercury contamination.

Walt Baker, director of the state Division of Water Quality, said, "Our goal is to come up with a comprehensive statewide approach, not simply a sampling effort for the Great Salt Lake watershed alone, as Jeff Salt has proposed."

Thomas said, "Salt and other private-interest groups have been invited to attend the mercury work group and have agreed to participate."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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