- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia health officials have issued stricter guidelines for acceptable PCB levels in fish, leaving many popular catches off the menu.

The state Department of Health issued 27 new PCB advisories and modified 11 old advisories in response to increasing concern about risk from longtime consumption of PCB-tainted fish.

Among the species affected by the stricter guidelines are Chesapeake Bay stripers, more commonly known as rockfish. The state now recommends eating no more than two servings of striped bass a month, and pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children shouldn’t eat it at all.

The level of PCBs has not increased in Virginia waters, said Khizar Wasti, director of the Division of Health Hazards Control with the state Health Department.Instead, the state decided to be more conservative and mirror the tougher standards adopted in Maryland and North Carolina.

PCBs, labeled a probable carcinogen by federal environmental officials, are oily, synthetic chemicals once used to insulate transformers and other electrical equipment. The manufacturing of PCBs was stopped in the United States in 1977, but the chemicals persist in the soil for decades.

Bottom-feeding fish and predators are most likely to accumulate the chemicals.

Virginia has steadily lowered the acceptable levels of PCBs in fish. Before 1980, Virginia followed guidelines developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that considered PCB levels higher than 5,000 parts per billion (ppb) dangerous.

The FDA lowered the levels to 2,000 ppb in 1984. Virginia lowered its level to 600 ppb in 1998.

The new guidelines released Monday recommend fish with 50 to 500 ppb of PCBs be eaten no more than twice a month, and those with 500 ppb or more should be avoided altogether.

The department, for example, recommends that no carp be eaten from Lake Whitehurst in Norfolk because of high levels of mercury and PCBs.

In the James River from Big Island to Richmond, gizzard shad, carp, American eel, flathead catfish and quillback carpsucker should be limited to two meals a month.

Tips for reducing the risk include:

• Eat smaller fish, because they are younger and have not accumulated as many PCBs in their fatty tissues.

• Discard the skin and fatty flesh, because PCBs are concentrated there.

• Broil, bake or grill the fish, because deep-frying seals the chemicals into the meat.

Despite the warnings, health officials urged a common-sense approach to eating native fish.

“As long as they don’t eat it 12 months a year, every day, it should pose little harm to them,” Mr. Wasti said.

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