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Hawaii Department of Health issues fish and shellfish advisory for Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Fuel Pier and Marina area

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MARINE CORPS BASE KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii -

The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) is advising the public not to eat fish and shellfish caught in the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) Fuel Pier and Marina Area. Fish from the area may contain unsafe levels of harmful chemicals. Higher risk groups such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who are planning a pregnancy and children are especially sensitive to these chemicals. MCBH has issued a catch-and-release restriction for the area where recreational fishing is permitted on a limited basis.

Preliminary tests from two species of whole goatfish caught in the area indicate unsafe levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the fish. Limited sampling of sediment in the area also found PCBs above U.S. EPA and DOH guidelines. Banned in 1976, PCBs are man-made chemicals used extensively in manufacturing transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. PCBs stick to soil and sediment and remain in the environment for a long time. Fish accumulate PCBs when eating sediment or smaller fish containing PCBs.

“A single large meal or occasional meals of fish caught in the area are not expected to cause illness from the PCB levels measured by the Navy in whole goatfish,” said DOH Toxicologist Barbara Brooks. “However, frequent eating of contaminated fish from the area over a period of months or years may lead to the build-up of PCBs in the body to levels that may put a person at a higher risk for cancer or other diseases.”

In the past, some people were exposed to very high levels of PCBs at work or from accidental poisoning. These people showed harmful health effects to their skin, eyes, and nerves. Studies with animals showed that high levels of PCBs could harm the liver, digestive tract, and nerves; and could affect development, reproduction, and the immune system.

PCB levels in fish are much lower than levels that may have made people sick in the past from work or accidental poisonings. PCB levels in fish also are much lower than levels given to laboratory animals. Some studies suggest that low levels of PCBs, like those found in some fish, might cause small decreases in children’s I.Q. or affect their memory, especially if exposures occur during pregnancy.

An ongoing investigation by the Navy/Marine Corps of the area shows the likely sources of contaminants in the fish were PCB-containing dielectric fluids from electrical transformers that may have leaked or spilled into the soil at the salvage yard. The salvage site was used to store excess construction and building materials during the 1940s and 1950s.

The DOH interim fish advisory will remain in effect until more extensive sampling is completed by the Navy/Marine Corps. DOH will work closely with MCBH to further investigate the impact of PCBs at the salvage yard site and determine if a long-term fish advisory is needed. 

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