PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM TAINTED FISH (Part II)

The people most at risk from contaminants in fish often don’t know it. Different chemicals found in fish from many inland lakes, including the Great Lakes, can be harmful to human development. State governments issue fish consumption advisories that recommend limiting eating such fish. In the second of a two-part series on contaminants in fish… the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that not everyone learns of the advisories:

Transcript

The people most at risk from contaminants in fish often don’t know it.
Different chemicals found in fish from many inland lakes, including the
Great Lakes, can be harmful to human development. State governments
issue fish consumption advisories that recommend limiting
eating such fish. In the second of a two part series on contaminants in
fish… the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that not
everyone learns of the advisories:


Horace Phillips likes to fish. He can often be found casting a line into a
lagoon off of Lake Michigan on Chicago’s south side. He says he and a lot of
his fishing buddies know about the fish consumption advisories, but he doesn’t
think he eats enough to matter…


“Sure, it’s always good to know, but, as I say, I’m not consuming that much fish.”


That’s because Phillips gives away much of the fish he catches. Like a lot of
anglers, he enjoys the sport, and shares what he catches with friends and
relatives. He doesn’t remember getting a fishing guide when he got his fishing
license, but the retailer was supposed to give him one. It not only outlines limits
on the amount of fish an angler can take, but also includes recommendations
on how much fish he should eat in a given month.


But Phillips says he thinks he learned about fish contaminants from the
newspaper. He never really thought about passing on the warning to people
with whom he shares his fish.


“I suppose the same literature that’s available to me is also available to them.”


But often the people who prepare the fish or who eat the fish don’t have a
clue that there’s anything wrong with the fish.


We should note here that fish is nutritious. It’s a good low-fat, lower calorie
source of protein. Eating fish instead of higher-fat and cholesterol laden foods
is believed to help lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure,
diabetes and several forms of cancer. Pretty good food, fish.


But some fish contain PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls – believed to cause
cancer. Chlordane, a pesticide, has been found in fish. And methyl mercury is
found in some fish. These chemicals can cause serious health problems,
especially for children and fetuses. They can disrupt the systems that
coordinate the nervous system, the brain, and the reproductive system.


Studies have shown women store some of these chemicals in their
fat tissue until they become pregnant. Then, those chemicals are passed
to the child they’re carrying. Studies have indicated that of mothers
who ate three or more fish meals a month, those with the highest exposure
gave birth to children with health problems.


They had significant delays in neuromuscular and neurological development.
Those children continued to show short-term memory problems at age four… and
significant reduction in IQ and academic skills at age seven.


Barbara Knuth is a professor of Natural Resource Policy and Management at
Cornell University. She says given the health concerns with eating too much contaminated fish, the information about restrictions needs to be more widely distributed.


“Where we need to focus effort now is not so much on the angler, but we need to be focusing
on the people with whom they’re sharing those fish, the women, their wives, mothers
of childbearing age, women of childbearing age, children, because that’s where we now know,
scientists now know – who are studying this – where the real health effects are.”


But where to start? After all, the fish might come from a friend… it might be at the deli… it could be on the plate at a local restaurant. There are no rules requiring a notice that fish is from a lake, or the ocean, or farm-raised. So, how do you get the word out?


One federal agency is working to get the information to those at highest risk by going through their doctor. Steve Blackwell is with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.


“We’ve taken on trying to reach health care providers that are serving the target
population, the most at-risk population of women, children, pregnant women and reach those
groups such as OBGYNs, family physicians, pediatricians with this information to help raise
awareness within that group that serves the at-risk population to try and make sure that they’re receiving the message and they’re not telling their patients something different from what the patients may be hearing outside that realm.”


Whether the doctors are actually passing on the concerns about contaminated fish is a
whole other question. But assuming they are, there’s still another concern. Many of the women who are most at risk might not see a doctor until the day the baby is due. Poor women… the very same women who might rely on fishing for a good part of their diet… might not be told
about the risks.


And so their children are born into poverty… and the added burden of chemicals that can hurt their development. Blackwell says reaching those women is something the federal government cannot do alone.


“You want to reach those people through local leaders, through churches, through
institutions that aren’t medical.”


And that’s best done, Blackwell says, by local government, not the federal
government. But state budgets are strapped. And, in some cases, states are
reluctant to raise awareness of an issue that they really can’t fix. A source within
a state agency told us that an higher-ranking official indicated to
him that he didn’t want to assign a full-time person to work on fish contamination
awareness alone because it would send the wrong political message. Another state stopped publishing fish consumption advisories as a budget cutting move… that is… until local reporters exposed that particular budget cut.


In short, warning pregnant women and women of childbearing age about the dangers of
eating too much contaminated fish and how that could damage their children’s
intellectual and physical development has not gotten enough attention yet to become a
political priority.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM TAINTED FISH (Short Version)

Health and environmental agencies are struggling to find the best way to alert people, particularly women, about the risks of eating too much sport fish contaminated with toxic chemicals. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Health and environmental agencies are struggling to find the best way to alert people,
particularly women, about the risks of eating too much sport fish contaminated with
toxic chemicals. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Some states cut budgets, including money for publishing fish consumption advisories.
It’s curtailing the efforts of health officials to tell families that children and women of
childbearing age should severely restrict their intake of sport fish.


Most sport fish contain levels of pesticides, PCBs, and/or mercury high enough to
cause neurological and mental developmental problems in children. Barbara Knuth
is a professor at Cornell University.


“Budgets are limited and until the time when resources are made available through state
governments, through EPA, even through foundations to fund both communication efforts and
evaluation and testing of those efforts to improve them, I think it’s still going to be a struggling
effort.”


Knuth says relatively small investments in information now could prevent great costs to
society and children’s lives later.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Enviros Call for Removal of Cosmetic Chemical

New testing has found some of the most common cosmetic and beauty products contain chemicals linked to birth defects. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:

Transcript

New testing found some of the most common cosmetic and beauty products contain chemicals linked to birth defects. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:


Three environmental groups hired a major national laboratory to test 72 name-brand off-the-shelf beauty products for chemicals called phthalates. Of the 72, 52 of them contained phthalates. Jane Houlihan is with Environmental Working Group and one of the authors of the report on the testing…


“What this means for women is as they use cosmetics, they’re likely getting exposed to phthalates and it’s a potential concern for a baby in the womb, a male baby, since many of these chemicals are really strongly linked in animal studies to birth defects of the male
reproductive system.”


There is not yet a direct link between phthalates in cosmetics and reproductive birth defects in humans. The environmental groups found products on the market that don’t use the chemicals. So, they’re calling for elimination of the use of phthalates in beauty products.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Mallard Ducks on the Decline

  • In a narrow swath of grass in a roadside ditch, a mallard hen nests her second brood of the season, a rare event for these ducks. Her first ducklings were killed by a predator.

In the last decade or so, ducks in the Great Lakes region have not been reproducing as well as they have in the past. The number of ducklings hatching out and surviving to adults has dropped by about 25 percent. Researchers are trying to figure out why this is happening and what can be done about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went into the field with researchers and has this report:

Transcript

In the last decade of so, ducks in the Great Lakes region have not been reproducing as well as they have in the past. The number of ducklings hatching out and surviving to adults has dropped by about twenty-five percent. Researchers are trying to figure out why this is happening, and what can be done about it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham went into the field with researchers and has this report.


(sound of quack, quack overhead / cross fade to truck doors and engine startup/ bed of gravel sounds)


Mallard ducks are the most common duck found throughout the Great Lakes states. You’ll see them on farm ponds, college lagoons, and even in big city parks. But recently the mallard’s population hasn’t been growing as fast. The duck’s rate of reproduction has been falling off in the region since the mid-1980’s. Researchers with the sportsman’s conservation group, Ducks Unlimited, are involved in a three year study of mallards to find out why the ducks are not surviving in as great of numbers.


Tina Yerkes heads up the project. In a truck with something that looks like a TV antenna on top, fellow researcher John Simpson and she are in northwest Ohio, near Lake Erie, headed out to find some of the mallard hens. Tiny transmitters were surgically implanted in the ducks earlier this year and the antenna tracks the signals.


“So, this is the whole gizmo setup here. Everyday these guys go out and they track the birds. Each bird has a unique beep, if you will, uhm, a frequency. And that’s basically how we figure out what they’re doing. We started with 57 and you’re down to 38?
JS: Thirty-eight, roughly. And, eleven? JS: Twelve. Twelve have actually been killed, either by predators or farming operations on this site.”


(Truck sound under)


As the truck gets close to the last sighting of one of the mallard hens they’re tracking. John Simpson flips on the tracker and turns the antenna.


(beep beep sound)


He’s pulled over along a fairly busy road, and starts looking around in the roadside grass.


“So, she’s actually nesting in the ditch?”
“Yeah. I’m not entirely sure where her nest is here, so we’ve got to be careful.”


(sound of grass rustling)


It’s hard to believe a duck could find a place for a nest here. Most of the roadside is mowed except for a little strip of grass where we’re looking. She’s one lucky duck. A mower would kill her and destroy her nest.


“There she is right there. See her sitting on her nest?”


The mallard hen is three feet away and she’s still hard to see. John
Simpson has to flush her so that he can take a look at the eggs in the nest.


(Sound of flapping wings)


“There she goes.”
“She’s got a pile of eggs too. That’s her second nest.”
“That’s her second nest?”
“Yeah. She had a pile in her first nest.”
“Twelve eggs? Is that right?”
“Eleven.”
“Eleven?”
“Yep.”


(Ambience remains under)


The duck lost her first brood to a predator. Since she had nested close to a subdivision, it could have been a dog or cat. But the researchers say in this case it was probably a wild predator, maybe a raccoon.


“And, once we’re finished, we’ll just cover the nest so the predators don’t see it and we leave.”


It’s very rare that a mallard hen tries twice to raise a brood, But in this area the ducks are adopting a lot of unusual behaviors. Since there’s almost no grassland to nest in, hens have nested in hay fields where they’re usually killed at mowing time. One hen made a nest in a large flowerpot. At our next stop we found a duck in the backyard of a mobile home, and her eggs had just hatched.


(Peep, peep, peep of the ducklings)


The owner mowed around the duck’s nest, giving the mother and her eggs a chance to survive. Now that they’ve hatched, they’ll head to the water nearby. Tina Yerkes says development pressures have hurt the ducks here.


“In Ohio, we’re looking at pretty bad brood survival which tells us that probably we need to alter the landscape by putting wetlands back—by restoring wetlands and managed marshes for the broods. And then, probably also coupling that with some grassland habitat, ’cause as you can see, there’s not a lot of grassland habitat for them to nest in here. We need to improve that.”


The Ducks Unlimited researchers are getting some indications about what kinds of things are hurting the ducks ability to reproduce. Besides the loss of wetlands the researchers are finding that farming practices such as frequently mowing ditches and urban sprawl taking up grasslands are all contributing to a high mortality rate among ducklings and sitting hens. But the researchers haven’t collected enough information yet to make any solid conclusions. It’ll be two more years and many more sites before the Ducks Unlimited researchers have enough hard data.


Robert Payne is the Curator of Birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. He says while to researchers it might seem pretty clear that people are causing the lower rates of production in the duck population. Information like the Ducks Unlimited group is gathering will be helpful.


“Well, it seems to be common sense: the more people, the more development you have, the fewer places there are going to be for birds. But the people in our society who make the decisions like to have some data out there. (They) Like to know how many ducks, how much land, and so on. Otherwise, these people can’t really figure how much land the really should set aside for the ducks. No data, no well informed decisions.”


(sounds of birds and bullfrogs)


But some people might find data that are supposed to help ducks gathered by a group that’s chiefly supported by people who kill ducks for sport might be a bit of a conflict, or at least very self-serving. Ducks Unlimited researcher Tina Yerkes says there’s a larger purpose here than merely making hunters happy.


“The purpose is not necessarily to create more ducks to shoot, but the purpose is to alter and affect the landscape in a positive way for all the species that need the landscape. So, we’re trying to take a step back and determine what the wildlife needs and help put it back on the ground for the wildlife.”


Predictions are that the human population around the Great Lakes will steadily increase for the foreseeable future, and if the researchers’ early indications hold, it’ll likely affect the duck population even more. This study, when it’s complete, might give policy makers the information they need to find a balance between the needs of people and the needs of wildlife as the conflict between the two grows in the Great Lakes region.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

MALLARD DUCKS ON THE DECLINE (Short Version)

Mallards are the most common duck in the Great Lakes region, but their numbers have been declining during the last few years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Mallards are the most common duck in the Great Lakes region, but their numbers have been declining during the last few years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports.


The sportsmen’s conservation group, Ducks Unlimited is involved in a three year study, trying to learn why mallard duck populations are not increasing in the same numbers they once were. Tina Yerkes is a research biologist with the organization. She says starting in the mid-1950’s mallard flocks were growing at a pretty rapid rate.


“In the Great Lakes area, after the mid-80’s until now the production ratio has dropped and it’s dropped pretty sharply. And that for us is a warning bell, if you will, that something is going on in this area that’s causing birds not to do well.”


Yerkes and a team of biologists in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio are tracking mallard hens and their broods. Early indications are that loss of habitat is beginning to affect the duck populations in the region. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Therapeutic Diapers

Each year in the United States, about four-hundred thousand fulltermbabies will be treated for jaundice. Since a baby’s liver and otherorgans aren’t fully developed, they often can’t process a substancecalled bilirubin (billy-roo-bin). The bilirubin causes a yellowishtinge to the skin and is usually treated with phototherapy.Now, one woman has found a way to speed up this process. The GreatLakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: