State closes geoduck harvest area

Arsenic the focus after Chinese ban on West's shellfish

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State and tribal officials have closed a 135-acre geoduck-harvesting area outside Federal Way until they can fully investigate the toxicity levels that caused China to ban shellfish imported from the West Coast.

"We know this has been a hardship on our state's shellfish industry, and we will work diligently to find resolution as quickly as possible," Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said Friday. "While state and federal testing results to date have not raised any health concerns, we take these steps out of an abundance of caution."

State officials learned Wednesday that arsenic was the toxin Chinese authorities detected in a shipment of geoduck clams from Washington's Poverty Bay. That shipment, along with one from Ketchikan, Alaska, led China on Dec. 3 to ban all imports of shellfish harvested in Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Northern California.

Previously, officials had believed China was attributing the problem in the Washington geoducks to the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. But on Wednesday, the state Department of Health learned the shipment from Washington was a concern because of arsenic, while the issue with the Alaska shipment was PSP.

The Department of Health traced the Washington shipment to 385 pounds of geoduck harvested in October by the Puyallup Tribe in Poverty Bay on the Redondo Tract.

Washington geoduck harvesters, Washington Department of Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been scrambling to understand the suspension. They had provided Chinese officials with reports indicating that PSP levels in the state were within internationally accepted levels.Now that they've closed the Redondo Tract, state officials will focus on arsenic."There are no federal safety standards at all for arsenic in shellfish, because it is not something that is typically an issue," said Tim Church of the state Health Department. "With the tests that we've done in the past, we've never found levels of arsenic that would be a concern for eating shellfish."

The last time the state tested for arsenic in the Poverty Bay area was in 2007.

"We are considering doing some more testing," Church said.