Study shows ‘alarming levels’ of toxics in Columbia River fish

Columbia Riverkeeper recently announced results from the second phase of the group’s “Is Your Fish Toxic Study,” and Riverkeepr reports that the findings show “alarming levels” of heavy metals, toxic flame retardants, cancer-causing PCBs, and endocrine disrupting chemicals in Columbia River fish.

“Fish advisories are not enough. We need immediate reduction and prevention of toxic pollution entering our river to protect the health of our communities,” said Lorri Epstein, water quality director with Columbia Riverkeeper.

Through interviews with participants, Riverkeeper reported it found that ethnic, immigrant, and low-income populations are eating fish with unsafe levels of toxic pollution. Contributing factors for increased risk were found to include higher fish consumption rates, and fish-preparation styles.

For example, Riverkeeper said a Cambodian-American fisherman, who provided shad for the study, fishes for his parents, who cook the whole fish in soups and stews. Not removing internal organs, skin, head and tail also increase exposure to toxic contaminants. Another fisherman from Kyrgyzstan who was surveyed eats carp twice a week, while according to Riverkeeper, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting consumption to less than one fish meal per month based on the PCB levels found in his fish.

“The fact that some Columbia River fish are unsafe to feed your family presents a real environmental justice issue,” said Epstein. “Posting warning signs is not the answer. Many people are unaware of the warnings or will continue to eat fish due to cultural and economic reasons. The top priority must be cleaning up our rivers. Our data show extremely high levels of toxic contaminants in these fish, and we need to consider the individual stories and families interwoven with the results of this scientific data.”

Riverkeeper’s testing revealed that sampled Columbia River fish contain unsafe levels of heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and toxic flame retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). The groups says these contaminants are known endocrine disruptors that can increase cancer risk and wreak havoc on hormone, reproductive and development systems in both human and animals.

Key findings:

  • Walleye from the Multnomah Channel contained PCBs 175 times the EPA limit for unrestricted consumption.
  • Shad caught near Bonneville Dam contained endocrine disrupting flame retardants and heavy metals.
  • Carp near Vancouver, Wash., contained PCBs 30 times the EPA limit for unrestricted consumption, mercury 3.5 times the EPA limit, as well as flame retardants and other heavy metals.
  • Steelhead and shad, which spend part of their lives in the ocean, did not contain detectable PCBs but did have high levels of mercury as well as flame retardants.

Riverkeeper reports the group’s data is consistent with previous scientific findings. The groups says the U.S. Geological Survey found comparable high levels of toxic contaminants in the Columbia River in everything from sediments, to resident fish to osprey eggs and that the EPA released a report concluding that the Columbia River exceeds the safe level for PCBs, DDT, mercury, and flame retardants.

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skyfeather50 4 years, 2 months ago

I have lived here all my life. I have said for years that the river fish are unsafe to eat, and also it is unsafe for people to be in that water. Back in 1990 I went swimming in the Columbia for the last time. My skin smelled so bad from the water, my clothes I went swimming in were thrown away after many washing and still smelling bad. I think the river is contributing to sickness, especially the children who are more susceptible to the pollution. I for one discourage everyone that asks not to get in the water or eat the fish. Closed minded? Nope. Strongly opinionated? Yep. There are unexplained rashes, stomach ailments, ear issues, the list goes on and on. I would not even let my dog swim in it if I had one. Everyone is free to make their own decisions, for now at least, because this is America, land of the free, also for now at least. This is my opinion formed from observations first hand. Take it or leave it, but I strongly urge you to at least think about it.


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