Fishing in troubled waters? Baltimore harbor: Toxics pose potential harm to subsistence fishers in hot spots.

December 09, 1996

TOXIC POLLUTION is not a problem throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Whether that is due to inadequate monitoring or a documented conclusion is part of an on-going debate. But toxic chemical pollution continues to plague certain industrial and people-congested "hot spots" around the bay, such as Baltimore's harbor and the Anacostia and the Elizabeth rivers.

While water quality samples and fish studies have demonstrated a decline in recent years as a result of cleanup efforts, there are still grounds for concern.

Crabs and fish in the harbor may carry dangerous levels of poisons that pose harm to people who eat them regularly in large amounts -- the subsistence fishers who rely on their daily catches to feed their families.

They eat much more fish than the average person, whose consumption level is used in setting food safety standards. Therefore, their intake of these accumulating toxins is higher, which places them at greater risk of damage to organs and the neurological system.

Furthermore, the seafood these consumers eat is taken from the same polluted areas, day after day, week after week. That also increases their chances of eating fish contaminated with such toxic heavy metals as lead and mercury.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Baltimore Urban League recently commissioned a study of crabs and fish caught in Baltimore's harbor since 1983. Researchers concluded that levels of lead and cadmium were high enough for concern among those who eat this seafood regularly. The study also indicated the state has not tested harbor fish often enough, or thoroughly enough, to know if they pose health risks for intensive consumers.

While much can be done to reduce toxic chemical pollution of the harbor over the long term, the state has an immediate obligation to inform its citizens of the potential danger of eating contaminated fish taken from this pollution hot spot. It should institute regular monitoring of these areas to assure that these people are better protected from harmful effects of their catch of the day.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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