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Fish Consumption Advice for Alaskans

However, the stakeholder group concluded that “an extensive collaborative program of research and monitoring of mercury in Alaska fish and in Alaskans who consume fish is needed and is being developed to increase the amount of data on mercury levels and follow trends in the future.”3

In response to this charge for additional data, State agencies launched two major programs: ADEC began a comprehensive Fish Monitoring Program in 2001 to analyze a wide variety of chemical contaminants in fish from Alaska, and DHSS began a Statewide Maternal Hair Mercury Biomonitoring Program in July 2002, to monitor the levels of mercury in the hair of pregnant Alaskans. This gave public health officials direct information about the degree of mercury exposure occurring in the most vulnerable subpopulation in Alaska, to optimally assess the likelihood of adverse health effects. This report presents and discusses both of these programs in detail. DPH also works closely with other researchers in the state to review study designs, data quality and interpretation, and most importantly, public health advice.

Description of the Alaska Fish Monitoring Program

The Fish Monitoring Program involves surveying selected marine and freshwater finfish species from around the state and testing these fish for a broad range of environmental contaminants. This program involves collaboration with biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the International Pacific Halibut Commission, and commercial and Alaska Native fishermen.

Fish samplers are trained to perform the standard protocol written in the Quality Assurance Project Plan to assure submission of quality samples for analysis. Fish are caught, labeled, put in food grade plastic bags (fish sleeves or Ziploc® type bags) and placed in lined wetlock boxes. The samples are either immediately shipped on ice, or frozen and then shipped when feasible, to the Environmental Health Laboratories in Palmer or Anchorage. Over 2,300 fish samples were collected from 2001 through January 2007.

The Environmental Health Laboratories process the fish and perform chemical analysis on the homogenized skinless fillets of individual fish, testing for seven metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, chromium, selenium, and methyl- and total- mercury). Results for the heavy metal and mercury analyses can be found on the state web page: http://www.state.ak.us/dec/eh/vet/fish.htm.

Due to the high cost of organic contaminant analysis, only a subset of fish samples were analyzed for organochlorine contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) , polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and organochlorine pesticides (e.g., “DDT”). This subset of fish does not include all species collected. AXYS Analytical Services Ltd. (AXYS) in British Columbia, Canada performed the testing following EPA analytical methods, and data were validated by independent contractors using EPA Region 10 Validation Methods.

Overview of Process for Developing Alaska’s Fish Consumption Recommendations

EPA provides the states with guidance for collecting and interpreting environmental contaminant data in fish to assist with the development of fish consumption advice. ADEC uses Volume 1 of the guidance to perform fish sampling and analysis for the Fish Monitoring Program.4 After ADEC receives and reviews the fish contaminant data, they forward the data to DPH for interpretation of the health significance and development of optimal Alaska fish consumption recommendations.


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