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Great Lakes Article:

Study: Fox fish advisory understates risk

By Peter Rebhahn
Green Bay Gazette
December 15, 2001

A proposed cleanup plan for the PCB-contaminated Fox River understates health risks of eating fish from the river, a toxicologist’s study concludes.

“The risk is about equal to smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes per day,” said Jeffrey Foran, an environmental toxicologist and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Allied Health.

But real-world risks are even higher, Foran said, because many fishermen don’t follow guidelines for cleaning and preparing fish to cut PCB risks.

The state Department of Natural Resources and federal Environmental Protection Agency released a cleanup plan Oct. 2 that asks seven area paper companies to spend $308 million to dredge and dispose of 7.25 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment.

The plan targets sediment with PCB concentrations of 1 part per million or greater in 19 of the 39 river miles between Little Lake Butte des Morts in Winnebago County and the bay of Green Bay.

The companies released PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — into the river during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s in the manufacture and recycling of carbonless copy paper. PCBs are very long-lived chemicals which have been implicated in a wide range of health problems in humans and wildlife.

Parts of the cleanup plan have drawn lukewarm praise from environmentalists, but criticism has mounted over the agencies’ decision not to dredge hotspots in the bay of Green Bay. A public comment period on the proposed plan closes Jan. 21. The EPA has said a final decision won’t come before next summer.

The 1 ppm dredging standard has also drawn fire. Foran said the agencies’ own data show the 1 ppm standard isn’t tough enough.

“The cleanup level that (the) EPA and DNR propose will not even come close to protecting human health and wildlife,” he said.

The Green Bay-based Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin is one of the sponsors of Foran’s study. Executive Director Rebecca Katers said an earlier version of the cleanup plan released by the DNR in 1999 backed a much tougher 0.25 ppm dredging standard.

“They’ve been going steadily backwards for the last two years,” Katers said.

Foran’s study was funded by part of a $50,000 grant to the Clean Water Action Council from the EPA, which provides money for activities that help communities participate in decision-making at Superfund sites. Foran is also president of Citizens for a Better Environment — an advocacy group that focuses on Great Lakes issues from offices in Chicago and Milwaukee.

Regulators have estimated that most of the PCBs released into the river have already moved to the bay and Lake Michigan. More than 150,000 pounds are thought to remain in bay sediments, including 69,000 pounds near the mouth of the river.

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