Washington Health Department won't be serving fish tonight - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Washington Health Department won't be serving fish tonight

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COLUMBIA RIVER, Wash. - The Washington State Department of Health says two studies show specific types of fish from the Upper Columbia and Pend Oreille rivers contain toxic chemicals.

Based on mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCBs) contamination, the DOH is advising people to avoid or limit certain types and amounts of fish they eat from the affected areas, especially pregnant women and kids.

The risks from mercury and PCBs depend on the amount of fish eaten and the levels of the contaminants in the fish. The chemicals can't be seen, smelled, or tasted in fish. 

Mercury is a natural element found in rocks and soil. Mercury spreads in the environment through industrial air pollution, mining operations, and improper disposal of products that contain mercury - including thermostats, electrical switches, and fluorescent light bulbs. If a developing fetus or infant is exposed to high levels of mercury, the child may have learning and behavioral difficulties later in life. Although adults are less sensitive, it's important that they also limit their exposure to mercury.

PCBs are a group of manmade chemicals once used widely in products like coolants and lubricants for electrical transformers. PCBs were banned in the 1970s because they stay in the environment for a long time and can cause health problems if a person is exposed to them in significant amounts. PCBs may cause cancer and can affect the immune and reproductive systems and the thyroid. A developing fetus or baby that is exposed to high levels of PCBs may develop learning and behavioral difficulties.

The state health department's analysis adds new recommendations to an existing fish consumption advisory for the Upper Columbia River, which goes from Grand Coulee Dam to the Canada border and includes all of Lake Roosevelt. This advisory is for both mercury and PCB contamination. 

Upper Columbia and Lake Roosevelt fish consumption recommendations:

Women who are or might become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children:
- Don't eat northern pikeminnow.
- Limit largemouth bass and largescale sucker to 2 meals a month.
- Limit burbot, longnose sucker, mountain whitefish, smallmouth bass, and walleye to one meal a week.

Women who don't plan to have children or those beyond childbearing age, and all men:
- Limit largescale sucker to one meal per week due to PCBs.