Are You Bringing Toxic Fish to Your Dinner Table?
New data collected by Columbia Riverkeeper show shocking levels of toxic pollution in local fishermen’s catch in Oregon and Washington. A Portland, Oregon, fish, for example, contains PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) at levels 27,000 percent above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for unrestricted consumption.
Riverkeeper detected these alarming levels in a fish caught by Daniel Pop, who fishes in the slough near Portland. He had planned to take the fish home for dinner, but agreed to let Columbia Riverkeeper send it to a lab to test for toxic contaminants. A sturgeon near Astoria exceeded PCB levels by more than 7,000 percent. PCBs increase cancer risks and harm immune, reproductive and development systems in humans and aquatic life.
Is Your Fish Toxic? Catching and Testing Fish on the Columbia River
To show toxic pollution is not a hypothetical problem, Columbia Riverkeeper in collaboration with River Network, met fishermen and tested fish bound for the dinner table, including a bass near Hood River, a sturgeon near Astoria and a sucker in Portland. The results showed Columbia River fish with arsenic, mercury and PCB levels exceeding what the U.S. EPA considers safe for consumption. Columbia Riverkeeper also detected heavy metals, such as chromium, and toxic flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which are known endocrine disruptors that can increase the risk of cancer and disrupt hormone function.
Fishing guide Bob Rees asked Riverkeeper to accompany him and sample a sturgeon he caught. Rees fishes in the Columbia River estuary near Astoria and consumes Columbia River sturgeon a few times a month. Tissue from Rees’ sturgeon contained PCBs 7,000 percent above what the U.S. EPA considers safe for unlimited consumption.
The potential detriment of this pollution to his livelihood and to the communities along the Columbia discourages Rees. “The sport fishing industry in the Northwest is a $3.5 billion a year industry, and if we are unable to continue to have safe consumption of the food resources that we extract from the Columbia, whether its recreationally caught crab or salmon or sturgeon, it can have an impact on the businesses that rely on this important resource,” Rees states. “Industries along the Columbia River should be held accountable for the detriments that they place on others.”
The Problem: Toxics in the Columbia River
The Columbia River contains too much toxic pollution, including:
• heavy metals, such as mercury, from factories and coal burning.
• PCBs that reach the Columbia through stormwater runoff, municipal discharge and dirty industrial sites.
• so-called “legacy pollutants,” such as DDT and TCE that are leaching from industrial sites.
• emerging pollutants, such as flame retardants, pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting chemicals, which reach the river via city wastewater plants.
The EPA released a report in January 2009 which concluded that the Columbia River exceeds the safe level for PCBs, DDT, mercury and flame retardants. Studies on Columbia River fish consistently demonstrate that toxic pollution is impacting one of our region’s greatest food resources. This is a major problem for people who rely on local fish as a healthy food source. Fish advisories are not the answer. People have the right to eat fish from the Columbia without the fear of getting sick. In fact, the Clean Water Act was designed to protect this right. “We need to reduce the toxic chemicals dumped into our river every day,” explains Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “It’s a matter of public health.”
Fish advisories and signs are not the answer
Many rivers in the Columbia Basin, including sections of the mainstem Columbia River, have fish advisories that warn people not to consume certain types of fish. Daniel Pop notes that fish advisories are sometimes posted in the Columbia Slough, but people do not heed the signs. Pop grew up in Romania fishing for carp, catfish and perch. “That’s our fish tradition,” he says. “We like the fish that like the stinky water.” Pop is one of many people who eat fish from the Columbia Slough and other polluted waters. At times, he says the Slough is so busy that he has trouble finding a spot to set his line. While Pop won’t likely stop fishing in the Slough, he would like to see something done about the pollution. “Unfortunately, the people who own the factories are not the ones down here fishing, eating the fish,” he concludes.
Columbia Riverkeeper believes we must reduce the amount of pollution in our rivers, not post more signs. “Instead of issuing warnings telling pregnant mothers and children to avoid eating fish, our states must actually reduce the amount of toxic pollution in our rivers,” VandenHeuvel states. “Many people rely on fish or don’t see the warnings. It’s unjust to sacrifice their health.”
“Catching and eating fish is a birthright in the Pacific Northwest,” stated VandenHeuvel. “It’s time to clean up our rivers for the health of our children.”
Visit EcoWatch’s CLEAN WATER ACT page for more related news on this topic.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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