Years of eating seafood from county waters could raise health concerns, state report says

  • By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
  • Saturday, July 16, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — You’d have to eat an awful lot of fish and shellfish from Everett waterways over many years for it to hurt you, according to the state Department of Health.

If you were to do that, i

t could give you cancer.

That’s the conclusion of a report issued last month by the Health Department about the condition of fish, shellfish and plants in Port Gardner and the Snohomish River estuary.

Three years ago, the state Department of Ecology collected fish and shellfish as part of a broader study of pollution in Everett waterways. The study cost about a half-million dollars, said Lenford O’Garro, a toxicologist with the health department.

English sole, Dungeness crab, varnish clams and Eastern softshell clams were gathered from five areas around the bay and the river mouth, said Andy Kallus, a project manager for the state Department of Ecology.

The Ecology Department and the Tulalip Tribes asked the Health Department to look at the samples for what they could mean to human health.

In testing the samples, several toxic substances were found, but two occurred in higher concentrations, according to the tests: arsenic and dioxins. Prolonged ingestion of these toxins at the levels found in the seafood over a lifetime would put a person at risk of getting cancer, the study concludes.

The study calculated the risk based on someone eating 17 meals or more of local seafood per month, a half-pound or more each time, as the standard, O’Garro said. That level is based on historical information about subsistence levels provided by local tribes to the federal government, he said.

Officials with the Tulalip Tribes could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Department of Ecology chose those particular fish and shellfish to sample because they were considered representative of other types as well, Kallus said.

Bottomfish were sampled rather than salmon, for example, because they live in the sediment where toxins tend to accumulate, he said.

The English sole, found in local waters despite their name, also are a good stand-in for starry flounder, which also lives in the Snohomish estuary, Kallus said.

So some of the conclusions about the effects of long-term consumption are transferable from one species to the other, O’Garro said.

“They’re both bottomfish,” he said.

This would be less true of clams and crab, he said, because their purity levels are more tied to their location.

For the study, the clams were collected in two areas — in the mudflats at the northern tip of Everett, near the mouth of the Snohomish River, and just south of the industrial area at the south end of the waterfront, Kallus said.

The fish and crab were collected in three locations: in the East Waterway, near the Kimberly Clark plant and Naval Station Everett; inside Jetty Island near the north marina; and outside Jetty Island.

The study concluded that eating the fish and shellfish even at tribal-subsistence levels would not pose health risks other than cancer.

Five years ago, the health department issued general guidelines for eating seafood from the Port Gardner and Port Susan Bay recreation area.

Those included eating no more than two meals per month of bottomfish or chinook salmon and eating Dungeness and Red rock crab only from non-urban areas, primarily because of mercury and PCBs in the water.

Long-term exposure to mercury could cause damage to the brain, kidney, lungs and a developing fetus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Long-term exposure to PCBs could cause cancer and damage to the liver, reproductive system and developing children.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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