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Improved Water Quality Leads to Updated Fish Consumption Advisories in parts of Delaware Estuary & Bay

Recently, the states of Delaware and New Jersey announced that they have issued less restrictive fish consumption advisories for their shared waters of the Delaware Estuary and Delaware Bay.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) coordinate closely with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on fish consumption advisories to ensure consistent advisories for their shared waters. Details on the advisories can be found at http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/fw/Fisheries/Pages/Advisories.aspx for Delaware and at http://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/njmainfish.htm for New Jersey.

This action is a result of water quality improvements in these waters through the cooperative efforts of the DRBC and state environmental agencies, which have led to declining levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans, pesticides, and mercury, all known contaminants that are considered legacy pollutants. Large quantities of these contaminants were released into waterways in the past, and releases continue today from active municipal and industrial facilities and hazardous waste sites. Due to their persistence, they accumulate in sediments and fish tissues and are slow to break down.

The DRBC works cooperatively with Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to sample fish species representative of the main stem Delaware River to provide data for use by these states in assessing the risk to human health from consumption of fish caught in the river. The DRBC has sampled fish tissue collected at five sites in the tidal river since 1990 and at three sites in the non-tidal river above the head of the tide at Trenton, N.J. since 2000 to follow the trends in contaminant levels. 

Declining levels of PCBs reflect the efforts of the DRBC and the states to reduce PCB loadings through the implementation of Total Maximum Daily Loads (Stage 1 TMDLs) developed by DRBC and established by the U.S. EPA in 2003 and 2006. As part of the TMDL approach, in 2005, DRBC implemented regulations requiring selected dischargers complete Pollutant Minimization Plans (PMP) to help track down and reduce PCB loadings from their facility sites. This collaborative effort has proven quite successful; from 2005 to 2016, PCB loadings by the top ten dischargers in the Delaware River Basin have been reduced by 76%.

In 2013, DRBC revised its human health water quality criteria for protection from carcinogenic effects of PCBs for the Delaware Estuary and Bay. DRBC is working with the U.S. EPA to establish new TMDLs (Stage 2 TMDLs), which will correspond to the updated criteria and include additional requirements for implementation.

For more information, please visit the links found in the "More Information" box on the right, as well as download Implementation of the PCB TMDLs in the Delaware Estuary and Bay (pdf 3.7 MB), a presentation recently given (Feb. 2018) by DRBC staff to EPA staff updating them on PCBs, PMPs, and the work being done to reduce loadings to the Delaware Estuary and Bay.