Officials release guide on health risks of fish

 

Lansing — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released the 2016 Eat Safe Fish Guides last month to help inform anglers about potential health risks associated with eating certain fish.

The guides, which are broken down by regions of the state, and searchable by county online, provide residents with information about the estimated levels of toxins that build up in fish based on lab tests on edible portions of fish collected throughout the state by the Department of Natural Resources.

The guides provide general statewide consumption guidelines for specific species of fish, based on size, as well as more specific recommendations for individual waterbodies, organized by county. The guides identify chemicals of concern by species and fish size, and provide a recommended number of servings per month based on the weight of the person consuming the fish.

“The MDHHS Eat Safe Fish Guides are essentially like nutrition labels for chemicals in locally caught fish,” MDHHS director Nick Lyon said. “These guides are easy to use and important resources that help families in Michigan consume fish safely.”

MDHHS health educator Michelle Bruneau told Michigan Outdoor News most of the recommendations in the 2016 guide remain unchanged from last year, but officials continue to find new areas of concern through a rotating schedule of tests on fish from across Michigan.

In recent years, MDHHS officials have recommended a new series of restrictions in Iosco County – for stretches of the Au Sable River, Clark’s Marsh, and Van Etten Lake near Wortsmith Air Force Base – over elevated levels of the chemical “PFOS” found there and in other areas.

“It’s a new emergent chemical we’re finding in fish pretty much wherever we look,” Bruneau said. “It was a chemical that was used quite regularly by 3M and other companies as a waterproofing chemical, for clothes and carpeting and those kinds of things.”

The chemical was also used a lot as a firefighting solvent at Wortsmith, she said.

And, like toxic mercury, PFOS cannot be removed from the water by treatment facilities.

“We did find some in the Flint River and it was at levels high enough to set limits for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass,” Bruneau said, adding that the chemical has also been detected in the St. Joseph River.

“PFOS is linked to thyroid problems and also it can harm brain development in infants and children,” she said. “Those are the two primary things we’re concerned about.”

Bruneau said that while other common toxins in Michigan fish like PCBs and mercury “are not changing drastically at any given time … the PCBs and dioxins are getting better over time.”

State officials test fish from different waterbodies on a years-long rotating schedule, so it can take about a decade to remove recommended restrictions from the guides once the tested fish fillets show lowered levels of toxins. The current testing schedule is based on limited funding, Bruneau said.

“Right now it’s about a 5-year cycle to test all of the water bodies” in Michigan, she said. “For us to reduce a guideline and make it less restrictive, we require two testing points in time.

“Whereas to add them to our list it only requires one data point.”

More information about the 2016 Eat Safe Fish Guides is available online at Michigan.gov/EatSafeFish.

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