Officials warn about contaminated fish from Catawba

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Officials in two states have issued advisories for the consumption of catfish and largemouth bass in large portions of the Catawba River located west of Charlotte.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the N.C. Division of Public Health said elevated levels of polychlorinated byphenyls, or PCBs, were found in catfish that were caught in Mountain Island Lake.

An indeterminate amount of PCBs were found in the largemouth bass, but health officials say "...previous studies have shown that largemouth bass in all waters of North Carolina have elevated levels of mercury."

According to the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, this is the first-ever PCB consumption advisory in the Catawba River system on Mountain Island Lake.

The lake is the primary source of drinking water for Charlotte, Mount Holly, Gastonia, Mint Hill, Matthews, and Pineville.

In addition to the advisory issued by North Carolina health officials, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control expanded its existing fish consumption advisory for PCBs to Lake Wylie, Fishing Creek Reservoir, Cedar Creek Reservoir and the Catawba River from Lake Wylie to Fishing Creek.

Pregnant women, nursing women, women who may become pregnant, and children under age 15 should not eat any largemouth bass from the lake, officials said.

To prevent mercury exposure and potential PCB exposure, health officials also warn that other people should not eat more than two meals a month of largemouth bass from Mountain Island Lake. A meal is considered approximately 6 ounces of uncooked fish.

"These results undoubtedly show us that PCB contamination is a widespread problem in the Catawba River and its lakes," said Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman in response to the announcement.  "We need to continue sampling the Catawba from Lake James to Lake Norman and make sure the proper advisories are in place to protect residents from contaminated fish.  Furthermore, the source of this contamination must be found and stopped them from further contaminating our River and its fish."

Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation collected, analyzed and released largemouth bass fish tissue results in June 2010 showing elevated PCB concentrations in Mountain Island Lake.

PCBs may adversely impact the neurological development of children, the reproductive system, the immune system, and may cause cancer.  Mercury mostly affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, especially in unborn babies and young children.  Prenatal mercury exposure can affect the way children think, learn and problem-solve later in life.  Adverse health effects also can occur in adults at much higher doses.

Officials say the PCB and mercury contamination in the fish poses no known health risk for those swimming, wading or boating in the lake.

For more information, click here to be directed to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' Fish Consumption Advisories website, or call the N.C. Division of Public Health at 919-707-5900.

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