Morehouse Parish residents concerned they may have eaten contaminated fish can receive a free test to determine the level of mercury in their bloodstream. These tests are in conjunction with the Department of Health and Hospitals' statewide blood-screening program.

The LDH Office of Public Health began conducting mercury screenings in 1998 to determine if Louisiana citizens contracted health problems from eating mercury-infected fish. OPH noticed a small group from Ouachita and Morehouse parishes had elevated blood mercury levels. Also, the department recently investigated the mercury poisoning case of an individual who lived near a body of water with posted fish consumption advisory in that area. Both Bayou Bartholomew and Ouachita River, located in northeast Louisiana, have these advisories. These circumstances prompted OPH to return to the area and conduct free screenings for any concerned citizens.

"These tests have proven valuable in helping citizens across the state get better information about their health and alleviate any concerns they may have about possible mercury-related health problems," said Secretary David W. Hood. "I hope many residents of Morehouse Parish and the surrounding areas will take advantage of this opportunity."

Citizens who want to receive the free screening can go to the Morehouse Parish Health Unit in Bastrop, 650 School Road, on Thursday, Jan. 30 between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., or on Friday, Jan. 31 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Residents of Union and Ouachita parishes also can participate in the screening. Walk-ins are welcome, but anyone who wishes to schedule an appointment can call 318-283-0806.

People who consume fish from either Bayou Bartholomew or Ouachita River should take advantage of the free testing. Other at-risk groups include fishermen and their families, people who regularly eat fish, particularly bass and bowfin, women of childbearing age, infants and young children.

Mercury is a natural element that accumulates in fish and later can accumulate in humans who eat the fish. An increased mercury level in humans can cause damage to the nervous system and is dangerous to pregnant or nursing mothers.

Anyone who participates in the procedure will fill out a questionnaire and give a blood sample. Participants later receive a mailed copy of their results, and an additional copy will be sent to each person's primary care physician. People with elevated mercury blood levels will receive advice on how to lower their body's mercury content.