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Fish Contamination Levels In Columbia River's Hanford Reach Prompts Advisory


The Washington Department of Health found six types of fish in Hanford Reach that have high levels of mercury and PCBs.

The Washington Department of Health found six types of fish in Hanford Reach that have high levels of mercury and PCBs.

Flickr Creative Commons, Molly Sabourin

Some resident fish in the Columbia River’s Hanford Reach aren’t safe to eat on a regular basis. The Washington Department of Health found six types of fish that have high levels of mercury and PCBs.

This is the first time fish in the Hanford Reach have been under a consumption advisory. Its a 150-mile stretch of the river in southeastern Washington.

Mercury and PCBs can cause problems for unborn babies or immune issues for adults.

Dave McBride, a toxicologist with the Washington Department of Health, said a lot of people fish this stretch of river.

“Eating a variety of fish rather than concentrating on fish from one location is always a good idea,” McBride said

The fish people should limit include: northern pikeminnow, mountain whitefish, white sturgeon, carp, bridgelip sucker, walleye, and large- and smallmouth bass.

This study did not look at contamination sources, although McBride said this PCB contamination is found around the country from transformer oils and electrical equipment. He said mercury contamination often comes from burning fossil fuels.

He said you can also clean fish and trim the fat off from the belly and skin, it will help reduce your risk — PCBs like to accumulate in fatty areas.

The study data came from the U.S. Department of Energy, which was looking to see if fish were contaminated from the Hanford site.

“This (DOH) study wasn’t aimed at pointing a finger at a particular place, but we do know that we have common concerns throughout the state — and the nation — on some of these very ubiquitous contaminants,” McBride said.

The department has a co-fish advisory with the Oregon Health Authority for the area from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam.

The Hanford Reach is the only free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River. The advisory covers waters from McNary Dam to the Interstate-90 bridge near Vantage.

If you want to eat more fish from Hanford Reach, the department said you can hook migrating fish like salmon, lamprey and steelhead.

“Fish have benefits, they have high omega-3 fatty acids. They’re a great protein source. There’s the whole cultural aspect of fishing,” McBride said. “We want people to continue to eat fish, but we want people to realize there are risks associated with the consumption of fish, depending on which fish it is.”

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