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Study Finds Eating Contaminated Fish Increases Risk of Breast Cancer
(Beyond Pesticides, November 14, 2003) A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin has found breast cancer rates were higher for pre-menopausal women (the average age of menopause in 51) in Wisconsin who consumed sport fish contaminated with DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs. The study, "Potential Exposure to PCBs, DDT, and PBDEs from Sport-Caught Fish Consumption in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk in Wisconsin," will be published in the upcoming issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) and is currently available at the EHP website.

The University of Wisconsin study focuses on these three chemicals that are commonly found in the Fox River, Green Bay, Lake Michigan and certain other waterways of Wisconsin. Similar pollution is found in several other rivers and lakes around the world.

Three Wisconsin zip codes have clusters of unusually high breast cancer rates confirmed by UW-Madison researchers. Wisconsin's breast cancer rate is higher than the national average. Breast cancer incidence has risen significantly over the past 15 years in Wisconsin.

"This study adds urgency to the Fox River and Green Bay PCB cleanup effort, and reinforces the need for a stronger cleanup standard to achieve faster, healthier results," stated Rebecca Katers, Executive Director of Clean Water Action Council, a non-profit group based in Green Bay. "The governments chose a weak cleanup target of 1 ppm (part per million) PCBs, when their own science says that 0.25 ppm PCBs is the minimum standard for achieving public health protection goals in a cost-effective manner. They are allowing serious health risks to continue for more than 100 years into the future."

Government surveys show that only 50% of Wisconsin residents who eat sport-caught fish are aware of the advisories, and only 40% of women and 22% of minorities are aware. In the Fox River/Green Bay region, 50% of anglers consume contaminated fish, and 70-80% of minorities.

"The state is downplaying the contamination, to protect the tourism industry, placing public health at risk," noted Ms. Katers.

Despite years of complaints from concerned environmentalists, only 40,000 fish consumption advisories are distributed in Wisconsin each year, enough for only 3.2% of the 1.25 million licensed anglers in the state. The supply would be inadequate even for the few counties bordering the Fox River, where 47,000 anglers have licenses.

According to Dr. Jeffery Foran, a toxicologist who reviewed the state's health warnings under contract to Clean Water Action Council, EPA has developed a risk-based fish consumption advisory designed to be fully protective of human health. If it were used, the public would be warned to virtually eliminate all consumption of Fox River fish. The Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) has issued a much weaker warning, which encourages anglers to eat some of the fish once per month, or even once per week.

To check on EPA fish consumption advisories in your area, visit http://oaspub.epa.gov/nlfwa/nlfwa.bld_qry?p_type=advrpt&p_loc=on.