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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
5/24/02
02/38

Contact: Patricia Cabrera or Kathleen Bird
609-292-9289

DEP COMMISSIONER WARNS URBAN ANGLERS ABOUT HEALTH RISKS OF EATING CONTAMINATED CRABS

BAYONNE- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today warned the fishing community of the large health risks linked to the consumption of blue claw crabs from the Newark Bay region.

Based on data analyzed by DEP more than a year ago, the agency determined that eating blue claw crabs, contaminated with dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), poses a highly increased risk of developing cancer and of harm to the developing brains of unborn and young children.

"These alarming risks demand a strengthened effort to alert the public not to catch, and not to eat, crabs from the Newark Bay and the rivers that feed it," said Campbell, who was joined at a news conference by First Lady Dina Matos McGreevey. "This effort is overdue, and requires not just the signs and warnings that have been issued in the past, but direct work with local groups who will help DEP reach out to this multi-cultural, multi-lingual community."

A site-specific risk assessment, using consumption information obtained from anglers and crabbers in the region, conducted by the DEP determined there is up to a 5 in 1,000 chance of developing cancer if five or more blue claw crabs are eaten per day over a lifetime. This risk is 5,000 times higher than the acceptable levels for safety, which is one in a million.

"Based on conservative assumptions that are protective of public health, this means that in order to reach an acceptable level of risk - one in a million - a person could eat only one crab about every 20 years," said Campbell. The magnitude of these risks was one of the highest encountered by the DEP in any context.

"Our mandate is for everyone to have access to our waters. Our long-term goal is to clean up the waterways so that people's health is safe. This effort will require working with the responsible parties to clean up this natural resource," he added.

A public education campaign, targeted at specific communities, has been launched by the Department of Environmental Protection with local and county health departments, community-based organizations, city governments, schools, marine conservation organizations and various networks throughout the Newark Bay region. The Department is coordinating its efforts with the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

The Department will make four $10,000 grants available to community groups to do public outreach, according to Campbell.

An integral component to this public outreach effort includes the posting of signs - in English, Spanish and Portuguese - along the banks of the waters in the 32-municipality Newark Bay region. Previous studies of the region indicated that these were the populations of concern. Additional outreach will determine if signs and other communication methods are needed in additional languages.

"Although further studies will be needed to examine and to verify our results, there is enough very alarming data about the health risk that warrants immediate action and public outreach," Campbell said.

DEP staff members will also conduct site-specific visits at fishing and crabbing locations in the region, along with representatives and state officials from the targeted communities, to distribute multilingual flyers. Future initiatives include a series of community meetings to provide information on the health risks.

The Newark Bay region is comprised of Newark Bay; the Hackensack River up to the Oradell Dam; Arthur Kill; Kill Van Kull; tidal sections of all rivers and streams that run into these water bodies; and the Passaic River downstream of Dundee Dam, and streams that feed into this section of the river.

It is a highly industrialized urban area including six counties and 32 municipalities in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Union and Passaic counties.

In the 1980's, research showed elevated levels of dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in five species of fish and the blue claw crab in the Newark Bay region. One of the sources for dioxin contamination of the sediment of the region is Diamond Alkali Company, later known as Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company. The site, where agent orange, a defoliant was manufactured between 1951 and 1969, and the adjoining six-mile stretch of the Passaic River, is a federal Superfund site.

Dioxin accumulates in the food chain and can be found in trace amounts in meat and dairy products as well as fish. In fish, dioxin levels can accumulate to 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment.

Advisories and a ban on the consumption of crabs were put in place to protect public health. These advisories were issued through the New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Digest, a free Department publication for anglers.

However, studies done during the mid 1990's demonstrated that fishermen routinely ignored the warnings and continued to catch and to eat crabs.

In addition, the study revealed that many crabbers took their catch home and shared it with their families. This is a source of concern since those most at risk include unborn children, infants, and children under the age of 15, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of childbearing age.

"The presence of high levels of certain carcinogens in blue claw crabs collected in the Newark Bay region poses a serious health risk to anyone who consumes them," said Clifton R. Lacy, M.D., Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services. "I strongly urge fishermen, their family members and all New Jerseyans not to eat crabs caught in these waters."

Catching or eating crabs caught in these waters has been banned since 1994. Nevertheless, crabs are still being caught and eaten during their three-month season.

 

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