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Commentaries and editorials

NW Indian Leaders Call
for Action on Fish Contaminants

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - September 26, 2003

Northwest Indian leaders, outraged over toxic contaminants poisoning the fish tribal members eat, are demanding the federal government cleanup the mess and reduce further pollution in the Columbia River Basin.

A resolution passed Thursday by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, during its annual conference in Pendleton, seeks a commitment from the U.S. government to strengthen and enforce existing laws that limit and regulate the creation and dissemination of contaminants.

The resolution also asks for federal funding for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board to act as the lead in coordinating an effort to examine the benefits and risks of eating fish.

Additionally, ATNI, a regional organization that represents and advocates on behalf of 54 tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, northern California and Alaska, is requesting funding for tribes to address tribal-specific human health concerns as well as impacts to fish from chemical contaminant exposure.

The ATNI resolution comes one year after tribal officials asked the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and Bonneville Power Administration to help launch an effort to pinpoint sources of pollutants that an EPA study says are contaminating the Columbia-Snake river system, its fish and the people who eat those fish.

The EPA report was the second in a two-phase study carried out by the agency in concert with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and its member tribes -- the Umatillas, Yakamas, Warm Springs and Nez Perce.

The first study, completed in 1994, found that Northwest tribal members eat six to 11 times more fish than the national average, and that adult tribal members ate as many as 48 meals per month that contained fish.

The second phase, released by EPA in the summer of 2002, found a total of 92 chemicals in Northwest fish, including DDT -- a pesticide banned more than 20 years ago, along with PCBs and heavy metals. Many of the chemicals are known to contribute to the risk of a variety of diseases, from cancer to heart and respiratory disease. Various of the chemicals can also affect the central nervous, reproductive and immune systems.

Together, the survey information and the tissue analysis, combined with toxicity information from an EPA risk model, provided researchers with the information they needed to determine the risk of developing cancer or other non-cancer effects from eating more fish than the national average. The risk of developing cancer from eating contaminated salmon, according to the study, ranges from 7 in 10,000 to 2 in 1,000, depending on where the fish was caught, the size of the person and how much fish they eat.

Generally, resident fish such as sturgeon, walleye, sucker and whitefish were found to have greater concentrations of contaminants than anadromous fish, which spend much of their life cycle in the ocean. For some locations where sturgeon and mountain whitefish are eaten in large quantities, the risk of developing cancer is as high as 2 in 100.

In the ATNI resolution, Northwest tribes assert that treaties with the United States "guarantee not only the existence of fish . but also their health."

"Salmon, other fish, wildlife, plants and other natural and cultural resources are important parts of our culture, economy, religion and way of life, and any harm to them harms us," the resolution states. "We are outraged that the prevalence of toxic contaminants and other pollution threaten our traditional values and force us to incorporate non-traditional practices and precautions, previously unnecessary and unknown to us, in our daily lives."

Tribal people, the resolution states, "will continue to eat salmon, follow our culture and practice our religion based on the use and enjoyment of our natural resources, recognizing the many benefits they still provide."

The resolution demands:

Specifically, the resolution requests that:

by CBB Staff
NW Indian Leaders Call for Action on Fish Contaminants
Columbia Basin Bulletin, September 26, 2003

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