Toxic Salmon Just Another Tainted Foodby Jeremy Brown, Guest Columnist
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 13, 2004
Following an extensive study earlier this year that identified significant levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon, the same authors have now released a follow-up study of the widely used flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in salmon.
Although Indiana University's Dr. Ronald Hites and colleagues found a similar pattern of contamination, with highest levels from European salmon farms, what should alarm us particularly is that these potential carcinogens are showing up where we should least want to find them, in wild salmon caught off the Oregon and British Columbia coasts.
The casual response might be simply to not eat fish, which Americans in general don't eat often anyway despite the health benefits of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids that cannot be derived from non-marine sources.
But further inquiry shows us that traces of PBDEs also are found in milk, beef and other far more staple parts of the American diet.
In November of last year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives detailed the presence of PBDEs in the most vital meal in the human diet; breast milk.
There is no adequate substitute for breast-feeding an infant, and the health benefits of eating fish are well documented. Discouraging those practices likely would increase malnutrition, especially in poor and minority communities that have less access to alternatives.
Rather, we must insist that all efforts are made to clean up existing pollution and to remove chemicals from production.
Indeed, the manufacture of PCBs has been banned for some time, and several states, including Washington, are planning measures on PBDEs in the near future. Ceasing production is the first step, but it is through thoughtless disposal that much of these contaminants enter the environment. The state needs to take a strong lead in regulating waste management and contaminated discharge.
PCBs and PBDEs are fat-soluble and accumulate in the tissue of small organisms and then become concentrated as they pass up the food chain.
The top of the Puget Sound food chain, the orca or killer whale, may indeed be seriously threatened by these same contaminants, which have been found at high levels in their tissues.
We are all responsible for the careless way we have handled many toxic materials.
Rather than pointing fingers and blaming the messenger, we need to push legislators for stricter controls and higher standards. Once these chemicals get out, we now know they will come back to haunt us. It's a message we ignore at our peril.
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