The Washington State Department of Health recommended on Thursday to limit eating sturgeon and lamprey caught from the Columbia River due to detected levels of contamination.
Both fish contained amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls that exceeded state health-based screening levels. Consuming large quantities of fish with these carcinogenic chemicals can lead to negative health impacts, including organ and nervous system damage, and may cause learning and behavioral problems, according to the Department of Health.
Sturgeon sourced from the lower Columbia River, portioned to be the size of one’s palm, should be minimized to four meals per month for pregnant or nursing people and children. Other adults should eat no more than six portions per month. The point of focus begins at the mouth of the Columbia upriver to the Bonneville Dam.
Adults who are pregnant or nursing can pass contaminants on to their children, the latter who are most at risk for experiencing adverse health impacts.
Recent revisions slightly reduced meal quantities from the state’s original notice in April 2022. More protective recommendations were needed to accurately reflect corrections based on findings from the Oregon Health Authority. Previous advisories suggested seven meals per month for parents and eight for all adults.
Lamprey from the Columbia River also showed high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as elevated amounts of mercury, as reported by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Pregnant or nursing people and children should limit eating lamprey to two meals a month, and adults should eat no more than four meals.
Polychlorinated biphenyls are human-made chemicals that were commonly applied to industrial and commercial products due to their nonflammable and durable chemical properties, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Air, water and soil contamination could have occurred during the creation, use and disposal of certain items, such as plasticizers for paint, plastic and rubber, as well as electrical, heat transfer and hydraulic equipment.
The compounds were eventually banned in 1979 because of their toxicity to humans and the environment.
Despite the chemicals’ manufacturing being nixed, they don’t break down easily and remain in the ecosystem, including sediment where fish feed. Polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury are likelier to accumulate in flesh that is also high in fat, such as in sturgeon, according to the Oregon Health Advisory.
Jeff Zenk, Department of Ecology regional spokesperson, said contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls — as well as most toxics — are linked to past practices, even when the compounds aren’t in use anymore, also known as legacy contamination. Pollutants are often pervasive and difficult to clean up, resulting in lingering effects.
The departments of Ecology and Health are working to identify and remove potential legacy sources of polychlorinated biphenyl, Zenk said. Ecology released guidance for private property owners and developers on how to do the same.
The Department of Health reported that, although eating sturgeon and lamprey should be constrained to an extent, people shouldn’t be concerned with completely removing fish from their diet.
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