A Fish Tale: A Review of the Science of Fish Contamination, Consumption, and Advisories

May 7, 2015
10:00 am US Eastern Time

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Tenth in a series of calls organized by CHE and the Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP).

The nutritional value of fish is well-documented. Fish contain high quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, are mostly low in saturated fat, and some fish even contain vitamin D. Eating lean, low-calorie fish can be an important part of a healthy diet. However, fish are vulnerable to contamination from toxic chemicals, including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and if the levels are too high eating some fish may pose a health risk.

Interventions to reduce contaminants in ecosystems to ensure a healthy and uncontaminated fish population are necessary. Fish consumption advisories and safe eating guidelines are also important public health initiatives to help inform people about the recommended level of consumption for fish caught in local waters. These include posted fish consumption advisories at water bodies, clinical guidance to patients, especially pregnant women and other vulnerable populations, and widespread public outreach.

On this call Superfund and other researchers examined both the ecological and human health risks of environmental contamination of fish. They addressed issues such as how fish become contaminated, how they are tested for contaminants, the ecological impacts of water contamination, understanding the risks and benefits of fish consumption, and the science behind fish consumption advisories.

Featured Speakers

Celia Chen, PhD, is an ecotoxicologist whose research over the last 15 years has focused on the fate and effects of metal contaminants in aquatic food webs both in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. She has studied the biovailability and bioaccumulation of mercury and other metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, zinc) in benthic and pelagic invertebrates and trophic transfer to fish. She has conducted metal bioavailability studies in the laboratory using freshwater and estuarine crustaceans and fish, and has also investigated metal bioaccumulation and trophic transfer in field studies in lakes and estuaries in the Northeast US. Her research questions focus on the chemical and ecological factors that influence metal uptake, including salinity, natural organic matter, feeding strategy, and food web structure. She and her colleagues are also developing killifish microarrays as biomarkers of metal exposure.

Gary Ginsberg, PhD, is a toxicologist for the Connecticut Dept of Public Health and a lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health. He serves on a number of national committees including US EPA’s Science Advisory Board (2008-present) and the National Academy of Sciences (Biomonitoring committee 2004-2006; USEPA Risk Methods committee which produced Science and Decisions, 2006-2008; Inorganic Arsenic Risk Assessment committee, 2012-2015). He also served on USEPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (2004-2009) and has been an external reviewer on a number of USEPA IRIS documents. Dr. Ginsberg has been called on by other federal agencies to provide reviews including OSHA (silica workplace standard), CPSC (cadmium in children’s jewelry) and FDA (dental amalgam). His risk assessments on fish contaminants, synthetic turf fields, acrylamide, cadmium, and assessments pertaining to risks in children and those with genetic polymorphisms have been published in peer review journals. Dr. Ginsberg co-authored a book for the lay public called “What’s Toxic What’s Not” (Berkeley Books, 2006).

Jerome J. Cura, PhD, Senior Environmental Scientist, Woods Hole Group. Dr. Cura is an ecological risk assessor. He is an expert in the area of ecological risk analysis. He has conducted ecological risk analyses in various freshwater systems, in marine and estuarine habitats, and in terrestrial environments. He has developed guidance for conducting risk assessments at dredging sites for the United States Army Corps of Engineers and he chaired the International Navigation Association’s (PIANC) workgroup that developed international guidance. Dr. Cura’s experience includes conducting assessments at CERCLA and RCRA sites (industrial and government facilities), providing technical advice on the design and execution of human health and ecological risk assessments, and providing expert testimony for law firms. Industry and Government organizations frequently invite him to lead or participate in environmental conferences or symposia. Dr. Cura works as a member of The Science Collaborative, a resource network of senior environmental scientists from the consulting industry and academia. He was a founding partner of Cura Environmental and Menzie-Cura & Associates, Inc. Dr. Cura has published over 30 peer-reviewed book chapters, technical papers, journal articles, and conference proceedings in the areas of risk assessment, environmental decision making, marine ecology, and dredged material disposal evaluation methods. He is a frequent contributor to Scientific Symposia. Dr. Cura is currently an adjunct faculty member at Cape Cod Community College where he teaches a course in Fundamentals of Oceanography.

The call was moderated by Wendy Heiger-Bernays, PhD, Boston University Superfund Research Program.