Harbor seafood warning issued Residents cautioned not to eat some fish more than once weekly

November 20, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Blue crabs and some fish in Baltimore Harbor are so contaminated with toxic metals that the seafood may be harmful to people who regularly eat large amounts, says a University of Maryland study.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Baltimore Urban League, which jointly commissioned the study, called on the state to warn area residents not to eat harbor-caught fish or crabs more than once a week.

The state already has a decade-old advisory against eating large amounts of American eel and channel catfish from the harbor because they are contaminated with traces of the pesticide chlordane, a suspected cause of cancer.

This study, which reviewed fish collected from the harbor by state scientists from 1983 to 1990, found that levels of lead and cadmium in crabs, eels and catfish were "high enough to cause concern" for children or adults.

Even tiny doses of lead can cause learning and neurological problems in young children, while cadmium can cause kidney problems for older adults.

Foundation President William C. Baker stressed that there is no reason to shun Chesapeake fish or shellfish in general. But he said the findings raise "early warning signs" for so-called "subsistence fishermen," who feed themselves and their families regularly from what they can catch in the harbor.

"The bay is not as contaminated as the Great Lakes," he said, "but the writing's on the wall: Ignore this problem, and it will get worse."

Baker and Baltimore Urban League President Roger Lyons urged the state to reduce toxic contaminants still entering the harbor from storm-water runoff, from sewers and industries and from air pollution.

Once in the water, metals settle into bottom sediments, where zTC they have rendered the harbor one of three toxic "hot spots" in the bay.

Department of the Environment officials yesterday said they planned to review the new study, and acknowledged they probably could do more to inform the public about potentially contaminated fish in the harbor.

But they also pointed out that crabs sampled from the harbor last year contained a fraction of the lead found by a similar check six years before. Lead levels were well within federal food safety standards, they said, and contamination appears to be lessening.

Toxicologist Katherine Squibb, a co-author of the new study, contended that the state has not tested harbor fish often enough or well enough to tell if they're really safe.

The study was released yesterday at the Baltimore Rowing Club, which overlooks a popular fishing spot in Middle Branch Park.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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