High toxin levels affecting crab harvest in Port Angeles Harbor

PORT ANGELES (June 18, 2007) – The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has warned tribal members not to harvest crab or bottom fish from Port Angeles Harbor due to high levels of contaminants discovered in a recent shellfish sampling.

Results from samples taken from the harbor last fall showed toxic levels in Dungeness crab to be more than 200 times greater than levels found around Freshwater Bay and Dungeness Bay. The tests were conducted by Rayonier Inc. as part of the clean up of its former pulp mill site.

When the test results were released in March, the tribe advised its members not to harvest or consume crab from the harbor because of the increased toxic levels, said Larry Dunn, the tribe’s Rayonier cleanup project manager. Although not tested, it was also advised not to consume bottom fish, because of concerns of similar contaminates. The tribe also felt compelled to warn the rest of the community and worked with Dr. Tom Locke of Clallam County Health Department to advise the community with a public advisory notice.

“When we saw the test results, we felt it was not safe to eat the crab or any bottom fish harvested from the harbor,” Dunn said. “The tribe felt the community was being exposed and they needed to be aware of that fact.”

High levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found in crab harvested from Port Angeles Harbor. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed screening levels for toxins in fish tissue; for PCBs, the screening level is 1.6 parts per billion. Levels found in Port Angeles Harbor crab were as high as 170 parts per billion in crab meat, and up to 5,800 parts per billion in the internal organs, or “crab butter.”

Dioxin levels were also found to be elevated in the Port Angeles Harbor crab samples, with levels in crab meat as much as 30 times the EPA screening level, and levels in crab butter nearly 2,000 times the screening level.

PCBs were used as lubricants and coolants in electrical equipment before being banned in the United States in 1977. However, because they do not readily break down, the compounds remain in the environment. PCBs are known to be harmful to human health, including increasing risks of cancer. Eating one crab per year from the harbor increases a person’s risk for cancer, Dunn said.

The state Department of Health (DOH) is expected to issue recommendations on consumption of seafood harvested from Port Angeles harbor in June. DOH already prohibits the harvest of clams, oysters and mussels in the harbor.