Report: Alaska fish free of contaminant levels that affect public health

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2004

KENAI - Alaska's world-famous seafood continues to live up to claims that it is hauled from some of the cleanest waters in the nation.

Test results from state and private fish monitoring programs find that Alaska seafood is free from contamination levels that would raise public health concerns.

So far, those studies are showing contamination levels far below those deemed dangerous to humans by the CDC, the EPA and the World Health Organization (WHO), according to the Alaska Division of Environmental Health.

Using funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, division researchers are analyzing samples of all five species of Alaska salmon, as well as halibut, pacific cod, sablefish, black rockfish, sheefish, lingcod and pollock.

They are looking for traces of heavy metals, such as methyl mercury, lead and cadmium. Other tests are done to detect dioxins and furans, pesticides, PCB congeners, inorganic arsenic and chromium VI.

Samples are being collected primarily in marine waters throughout the state, with some northern pike from lakes in the Koyukuk, Kuskokwim, Yukon and Susitna River drainages.

While pollutants are appearing everywhere, including in Alaska, the limited sampling of Alaska fish has revealed no levels of concern that would warrant consumption warnings.

The nonprofit organization Waterkeeper Alliance recently launched an initiative to combat mercury contamination of the world's waterways.

"Preliminary test results show levels (of mercury) within acceptable guidelines," said Scott Edwards, legal director for the alliance, about studies being conducted in Alaska through the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

But Edwards said more testing is needed. He said studies have demonstrated that Alaska and Arctic Canada have become gathering grounds for pollutants.

"A lot of airborne contaminants make their way here," he said. "The fact that Alaska is removed from immediate sources doesn't mean it should not be on your radar."

The air transportation of mercury is not well modeled, he said, but it is known that mercury and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants in Ohio end up far from their sources.

"It circles the globe," Edwards said. "If you accept that position, Alaska is not immune."

The state has tested tissue samples from fish taken from coastal regions in 2001 and 2002. Those fish showed low mercury levels in the most frequently consumed Alaska species.

Mercury levels in salmon were among the lowest found in any tested. Halibut samples produced the highest concentrations - an average of about .2 ppm. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a level five times higher for what can be sold commercially to consumers.



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