COLUMBIA RIVER FISH ADVISORY
May 13, 1996
Olympia, WA - A Bi-State Water Quality Program study has found contaminants in fish from the lower Columbia River. Though most of the contaminants were found at low levels, some were high enough to be of potential concern to certain populations. The Oregon and Washington State Health Departments have determined that most people can safely eat the fish; however, some people, such as pregnant and nursing women and small children are more sensitive and should limit consumption of certain species.
"Levels of contaminants are higher in some types of fish." said Denise LaFlamme, toxicologist at the Washington State Department of Health. "Chemicals of concern accumulate in fatty tissues of all fish. People can reduce their exposure to these contaminants by cutting away fatty portions, including the skin, and then cooking the fish in a broiler or on a barbecue grill so fat drips away. People should also avoid eating the whole body of the fish."
The highest levels of contaminants were found in peamouth, carp and largescale sucker. Contaminants in these fish may affect human development.
"Pregnant and nursing women, women who may become pregnant and young children should limit consumption of those species," said Grant Higginson, health officer at the Oregon Health Services. "Our data are limited. We aren't telling people how many fish they can eat. We're suggesting that all consumers can limit their risk from chemicals by following the cooking instructions and eating less of certain fish."
In 1990 the Washington and Oregon legislatures created the Lower Columbia River Bi-State Water Quality Program to study water quality and related issues from the Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean. A 20-member Steering Committee representing diverse interest groups worked with the program which is funded by the states, pulp and paper industry, public ports and others.
The Bi-State Program commissioned a risk assessment. It used data from fish collected in three different surveys, beginning in 1991. The risk assessment examined more than 100 chemicals initially detected in the fish.
The Bi-State Program risk assessment evaluated cancer and non-cancer risk and identified PCBs, dioxins/furans, DDT, arsenic and mercury as potentially harmful to people eating fish. The highest concentrations of contaminants were found in carp, peamouth and largescale sucker; moderate concentrations were found in white sturgeon; and the lowest concentrations were found in steelhead trout, chinook salmon and coho salmon.
Since the Washington Department of Ecology and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released the draft Bi-State risk assessment in August 1995, the study results underwent a technical peer review by scientists external to the agencies. The peer reviewers' comments concurred with the study's methodology. The Bi-State Program's human health risk assessment final report is now available to the public.
As a result of the draft risk assessment, the Washington and Oregon Health agencies conducted a health analysis. The health analysis showed that levels of mercury and arsenic do not appear to be of concern. PCBs, dioxins/furans and DDT are of concern for people who frequently eat peamouth, carp and largescale sucker and for the sensitive populations identified above. People who consume any fish from the lower Columbia River can reduce their exposure to the contaminants of concern by following the cooking recommendations.
The health departments' health analysis report identifies and communicates health risks to people who eat fish, while providing information about the health benefits of eating fish. For most people, the health benefits of eating lower Columbia River fish may outweigh increased risks from exposure to fish contaminants. In addition to basic nutritional needs fish provides several health benefits including decreased risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of some cancers.
"We are concerned about the health of the lower Columbia River, the fish and the people who eat the fish. As a result of the health assessment and analysis we plan to work with Oregon, local governments, the Native American Tribes and others to improve and protect the health of the river," said Terry Husseman, Washington Ecology's deputy director. "We will move together to implement several courses of action."
The Washington and Oregon environmental agencies are taking the following steps to improve the health of the river.
- Identifying and addressing the likely sources of pesticides, PCBs, metals, dioxins/furans and DDT found to be contaminating the fish. The manufacture and use of DDT has been illegal in the United State for many years. The manufacture of PCBs is illegal in our county, but it is still used today. Many of these contaminants may have accumulated in the river or are still seeping into the river from past discharges. The most effective way of protecting the river is preventing the pollution from getting into the river.*
- Working with local, state and federal governments to control the runoff and seepage of DDT and PCBs into the river.
- Planning to evaluate the effectiveness of current pollution control programs aimed at reducing the discharge of pollutants into the lower Columbia River.*
- Planning to continue monitoring the lower Columbia to further refine our information and to assess the success of further measures to reduce pollution.*
(The items listed above marked with an "*" asterisk are some of the actions that may be considered under the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program.)
"The Bi-State study did an excellent job identifying environmental problems on the lower Columbia. Now we must focus on solutions. The National Estuary Program will be a major contributor to this effort," said Langdon Marsh, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's director.
On May 23, the agencies will celebrate the designation of the lower Columbia River into the Lower Columbia River Estuary Program. This designation will help to carry out the steps identified to protect the lower Columbia River.
The Human Health Risk Assessment is one of several studies commissioned by the Bi-State Program. All of the studies are being compiled into a comprehensive report with findings and recommendations that will undergo a public review and comment process slated to begin in June.
EDITORS NOTE: For copies of the risk assessment, contact: Helen Bresler, Washington Department of Ecology (360) 407-6480; Don Yon, ODEQ, (503) 229-5995; for telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), (360) 407-6006.
Copies of the health analysis are available from: Denise LaFlamme, Washington Department of Health, (360) 753-2410; Dave Stone, Oregon Health Services, (971) 673-0444; TDD, 1-800-833-6388.