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Lake Ontario Fish are Safe - But Not Safe Enough

by the Fish Site Editor
28 September 2009, at 1:00am

US - Lake Ontario's fish are now safe to eat and the restictions of chinook salmon fishing have been relaxed but the advice is still to limit consumption of fish caught in the lake.

More than three decades after New Yorkers were first warned to limit their consumption of Lake Ontario fish, levels of toxic chemicals in the fish have plummeted.

Democrat and Chronicle reports that concentrations have fallen by more than 90 per cent in some cases, the state stopped testing regularly for one of the most-feared chemicals years ago, and the advisory was relaxed recently for the lake's premier sport fish, chinook salmon.

A top state health official said the advisories could be dramatically loosened "if levels continue to progress as they have".

Yet for now, state officials say the Lake Ontario fishing advisories – which recommend no more than one meal a month of many species, and no meals at all for children or women who may become pregnant – will remain as they are.

"It's frustrating that they are still at levels we consider to be of concern," said Edward Horn, director of environmental health assessment for the state Department of Health. "We're learning that one of the major problems with a lot of these chemicals ... it's going to be a devil of a problem to try and control them."

Another longstanding problem with the advisories remains as well: many people who eat fish from Lake Ontario do not know about the advisories, do not understand them or simply ignore them.

As a new study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center demonstrates afresh, the lack of adherence is particularly acute among people who tend to eat the most lake fish. Only one-third of people who said they eat locally caught fish regularly knew the government had issued health advisories, researchers found in a survey, and fewer than one in 20 fish consumers were able to correctly answer a battery of health-related questions about their fare.

Like the University of Rochester work, other surveys have shown that anglers have some awareness of the warnings but others who eat the fish are often in the dark.

According to Democrat and Chronicle, the Health Department first issued advisories for Lake Ontario fish in 1978 over concern that the insecticides DDT and mirex, and several other toxic chemicals, were accumulating in the fishes' fatty tissue.

Worry about most of these compounds has abated, but polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, remain a major problem. The level of PCBs, primarily used in electrical equipment, has gone down, but not enough, Horn said. PCBs are probable carcinogens, and studies have blamed them for low birth weight and development shortcomings in infants whose mothers eat tainted Great Lakes fish.

the Fish Site Editor

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