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Water: News

Newsletter—July 2009


Recent Advisory News

East Coast PCBs advisory for striped bass and bluefish

Authorities in Connecticut and six other East Coast states -- Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware -- released coordinated warnings about the striped bass and large bluefish over 25 inches from their local waters. The seven states released their advisories together because “the species are migratory and many of the fish that are in Connecticut today could be in New Jersey in the fall," said Brian Toal, an epidemiologist with the Connecticut health department. Based on the new advice, children under 6 and women who are nursing, pregnant or of childbearing age are considered at higher risk and should not eat the fish at all. Everyone else should eat no more than one meal of the fish per month.

Source: The Hartford Courant (CT); 06/04/2009

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The rockfish risk: Latest restrictions on eating Maryland fish

An editorial in The Baltimore Sun discussed the new Maryland statewide coastal advisory for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in striped bass (also called rockfish) and bluefish, noting that striped bass are the most popular sport fish in the state and that most people tend to think these ocean fish are safer. The author also commented that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees the health and safety of commercial seafood, hasn't issued a similar warning for the same local fish sold at fish markets or grocery stores.

Source: The Baltimore Sun (MD); 06/05/2009

White Lake fish contamination declines

A new study shows the levels of contaminants in White Lake (Michigan) fish have decreased. White Lake was declared a Great Lakes "Area of Concern" in 1987 due to its history of pollution from chemical companies and a leather tannery. Researchers credit the removal of harmful sediments with lowering the contamination levels of White Lake fish.

Source: The Muskegon chronicle (MI), 6/11/2009

Lake Huron fish sold without warnings despite health advisories

The Michigan Department of Community Health warns that women and children should not eat lake trout or large whitefish from Lake Huron because of elevated levels of PCBs and dioxin. But approximately 60% of the commercially caught Great Lakes whitefish comes from Lake Huron, and commercially caught fish are not regularly screened for dioxin, nor are buyers made aware of the fish consumption advisory when they purchase Lake Huron fish. In Michigan, the state Department of Agriculture has a contract to inspect commercial fish operations on behalf of the FDA. The FDA directs the inspectors to make sure “that incoming fish have not been harvested from waters that are under a consumption advisory by a federal, state or local authority.” If chemical contamination is suspected, fisheries are asked to submit a chemical analysis demonstrating that chemicals in their fish fall within tolerable levels. However, because no tolerance level has been set for dioxin, the FDA does not require that the fisheries test for it, even if it is known to be present in water and fish.

Source: The Michigan Messenger (MI), 6/8/09

New data suggest that PBDE byproducts are ubiquitous in U.S. waters

Recent research shows for the first time that compounds produced when polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) flame retardants are exposed to wastewater treatment can generate dioxins. Experts agree that both the dioxins and the compounds that produce them, hydroxylated PBDEs (OH-PBDEs), could be impacting aquatic wildlife, and humans as well. The researchers predict that scientists are likely to find these byproducts wherever PBDEs are present in the water environment. However, Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and one of the world’s foremost authorities on dioxin toxicity, says that the dioxins produced in the new experiment seem unlikely to be very toxic.

Source: Chemical & Engineering News, 5/28/2009

Few fish eaters means lower risk

West Virginia allows more mercury in fish (0.5 micrograms per gram of fish tissue) than the federal government recommends (0.3 micrograms per gram), but environmental regulators say that's OK because West Virginians eat less fish than the national average. Some residents say they might eat more fish if they were confident it was safe. "We tell everyone in our area, and most people in our area would not eat a fish caught out of the Coal River. Or probably any other river, for that fact," said Janice Nease of Coal River Mountain Watch, a group devoted to fighting mountaintop removal mining in southern West Virginia.

Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV), 5/19/2009

Connecticut study shows levels of mercury in fish declining

A new study has found that mercury levels in largemouth bass caught in Connecticut lakes have declined over the past decade, but are still high enough to warrant the statewide consumption advisory. Currently, the state Department of Public Health advises young women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children under age six to limit eating freshwater fish to one meal per month because of the risk of mercury contamination, while everyone else should limit consumption to one meal per week, except for trout raised in hatcheries. The study also successfully experimented with a new non-lethal biopsy method to determine mercury levels in the fish.

Source: The UConn Advance (CT), 6/8/2009

Current Events

Women’s awareness of fish consumption advisories

An anonymous survey was given to women seeking care at medical offices. Fish consumption in the surveyed population was low, with 97.3% of respondents consuming fish twice per week or less. Fewer than half (47%) of the women knew about fish consumption advisories, with pregnant women more knowledgeable compared to nonpregnant, and whites more aware than blacks. Those knowledgeable about advisories most commonly learned about them through the popular media. Pregnant women reported higher awareness of fish advisories, but they also avoided eating fish to a greater extent than nonpregnant women. Fewer than 5% of women consumed fish above FDA and EPA advisory levels.

Frithsen, I. and W. Goodnight (2009). "Awareness and implications of fish consumption advisories in a women's health setting." J Reprod Med 54(5): 267-72.

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Dietary intake of Alaska Native people and implications for health

Interviewers collected 24-hour diet recalls from Alaska Native people during 4 seasons in 10 villages from two regions of rural Alaska. There were 333 participants, ages 13 to 88 years old. The researchers found that in all populations surveyed, most of the energy consumed comes from store-bought foods; however, a high proportion of nutrients comes from Native foods, especially protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Mean intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, from fish and sea mammals, are over twenty times greater than those of the general U.S. population.

Johnson, J. S., E. D. Nobmann, et al. (2009). "Dietary intake of Alaska Native people in two regions and implications for health: the Alaska Native Dietary and Subsistence Food Assessment Project." Int J Circumpolar Health 68(2): 109-22.

Neuropsychological function in children with low mercury exposures

This study examined relationships between hair mercury levels and neuropsychological outcomes in a population of 355 US children ages 6-10. Results showed that overall, test scores of children with elevated hair mercury levels appeared to be lower than those of children with low hair mercury levels. However, few children had high levels and these differences were not statistically significant. Based on these results the authors conclude that low hair mercury levels in US school-age children were not adversely related to neuropsychological function.

Surkan, P. J., D. Wypij, et al. (2009). "Neuropsychological function in school-age children with low mercury exposures." Environ Res May 21. [Epub ahead of print].

Mercury trends in sport fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed

More than 4,000 fish from 31 species were collected and analyzed for total mercury. Significant regional differences in mercury were apparent in largemouth bass, with concentrations on the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers significantly higher than the central and western Delta. The study also found that overall, largemouth bass and striped bass had the highest mercury levels, while redear sunfish, bluegill and rainbow trout exhibited the lowest . The authors suggest that the spatial variation of mercury in the watershed may be largely explained by regionally different prey-predator mercury correlations.

Melwani, A. R., S. N. Bezalel, et al. (2009). "Spatial trends and impairment assessment of mercury in sport fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed." Environ Pollut May 29. [Epub ahead of print].

Mercury risk and awareness among American Indian women

Sixty-five women living on a Northwest America Indian reservation were surveyed using an electronic questionnaire which was first evaluated for cultural acceptability by tribal consultants. About half of the women indicated eating locally caught fish (including fish from a food bank stocked with donations from sportsmen) with the majority consuming medium- and large-size fish that could result in exposure to mercury. The majority of women (80%) were unaware of tribal or state fish advisory messages. The study found that information from doctors and healthcare providers was the most favorable method of risk communication for 78% of the respondents.

Kuntz, S. W., W. G. Hill, et al. (2009). "Methylmercury risk and awareness among American Indian women of childbearing age living on an inland northwest reservation." Environ Res May 26. [Epub ahead of print].

Sexual difference in PCB concentrations of walleye

This study found that adult male walleye had 34% higher concentrations of PCBs than adult females from South Manistique Lake in Michigan (a relatively pristine lake with no point source inputs of PCBs). Results of bioenergetics modeling indicated that the difference in PCB concentrations was attributable, at least in part, to a sexual difference in gross growth efficiency (GGE). Adult female GGE was estimated to be up to 17% greater than adult male GGE.

Madenjian, C. P., P. A. Hanchin, et al. (2009). "Sexual difference in PCB concentrations of walleyes (Sander vitreus) from a pristine lake." Sci Total Environ 407(15): 4526-32.

Postnatal exposure to mercury: The Seychelles Child Development Study

The authors analyzed the Seychelles Child Development Study (SCDS) Main Cohort using three types of alternative metrics to examine the association between postnatal methylmercury (MeHg) exposure and the children's intelligence quotient (IQ). Recent postnatal exposure to MeHg at 107 months of age was adversely associated with four endpoints, three in females only. One metric was beneficially associated with IQ in 9-year old males only. The authors found no consistent pattern of associations to support a causal relationship between IQ and postnatal MeHg exposure.

Myers, G. J., S. W. Thurston, et al. (2009). "Postnatal exposure to methyl mercury from fish consumption: a review and new data from the Seychelles Child Development Study." Neurotoxicology 30(3): 338-49.

Trophic dynamics and methylmercury bioaccumulation in streams

This study evaluated MeHg bioaccumulation in eight stream ecosystems across the United States (Oregon, Wisconsin, and Florida). Across all sites, concentrations of total mercury in top predator fish and forage fish, and MeHg in invertebrates, were strongly positively correlated to concentrations of filtered total mercury, filtered MeHg, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC); to DOC complexity; and to percent wetland in the stream basins. Although mercury increased significantly with increasing trophic level, mercury concentrations in top predator fish were not strongly influenced by differences in relative trophic position. Based on these results the authors suggest that mercury contamination in top predatorfish in streams likely is dominated by the amount of MeHg available for uptake at the base of the food web rather than by differences in the trophic position of top predator fish.

Chasar, L. C., B. C. Scudder, et al. (2009). "Mercury cycling in stream ecosystems. 3. Trophic dynamics and methylmercury bioaccumulation." Environ Sci Technol 43(8): 2733-9.

Changes in mercury bioaccumulation induced by an invasive fish

This study reviewed the effects of introduced shad populations in Clear Lake (California) on the diet and mercury bioaccumulation in nearshore fishes. The shad competitively displaced other fish in the lake, resulting in three native plankton-eating species (inland silversides, young-of-year largemouth bass and bluegill) shifting almost entirely to a diet of benthic organisms. Researchers measured fish for delta13C, a stable carbon isotope which is elevated in benthic organisms, to confirm the dietary shift. Along with the rise in delta13C, mercury concentrations rose by 50% in all three species. However, when researchers temporarily removed shad from the lake, zooplankton densities, foraging patterns, isotope ratios, and mercury concentrations in the nearshore fishes returned to pre-shad values.

Eagles-Smith, C. A., T. H. Suchanek, et al. (2008). "Changes in fish diets and food web mercury bioaccumulation induced by an invasive planktivorous fish." Ecol Appl 18(8 Suppl): A213-26.

Mercury distribution in Clear Lake, California

Concentrations of total mercury in Clear Lake are some of the highest reported worldwide for sediments and water due to the presence of the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine, which deposited mercury into the lake prior to closing in 1957. However, the authors found that mercury in lower trophic level animals was significantly lower than what would be expected for such a contaminated site, and based on measurements of the ratio of methylmercury to total mercury, the authors suggest that the methylation process is mostly decoupled from inorganic mercury loading in Clear Lake. Reasons for this decoupling may include reduced bioavailability of mercury from the mine; the alkalinity of the lake water; the shallow depth of the lake; and dilution of methylmercury by a highly productive system. The authors suggest that if Clear Lake were deeper, less productive, or less alkaline, biota would likely contain much more methylmercury than they do presently.

Suchanek, T. H., C. A. Eagles-Smith, et al. (2008). "Is Clear Lake methylmercury distribution decoupled from bulk mercury loading?" Ecol Appl 18(8 Suppl): A107-27.

Predictors of human serum dioxin concentrations in Michigan

The authors studied populations in Michigan who had been exposed to dioxin-like chemicals released into the air and water by a Dow Chemical facility, along with a control group population. Historic exposures before 1980, including living in the Midland/Saginaw area, hunting and fishing in the contaminated areas, and working at Dow, contributed to serum dioxin levels. Exposures after 1980 in Midland and Saginaw counties contributed little to serum dioxins. In the control population, the study found that environmental factors, age, sex, body mass index, smoking, and breast-feeding together explained a substantial proportion of the variation in serum dioxin concentrations. The authors conclude that historic exposures to environmental contamination appeared to be of greater importance than recent exposures for dioxins.

Garabrant, D. H., A. Franzblau, et al. (2009). "The University of Michigan Dioxin Exposure Study: predictors of human serum dioxin concentrations in Midland and Saginaw, Michigan." Environ Health Perspect 117(5): 818-24.

Meetings and Conferences

Mount Hood provides the backdrop for this view of the Portland, Oregon skyline

2009 National Forum on Contaminants in Fish

November 2–5, 2009, Portland, Oregon.

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American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting

August 30–September 3, 2009, Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, please visit:

http://www.fisheries.org/afs/index.html Exit EPA Disclaimer

For More Information

Please email the newsletter (bigler.jeff@epa.gov) if you would like to announce an upcoming meeting, conference, or to submit an article.

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