If it weren’t for sportfishing, I may never have gotten married, and my son would not have his “Dad #2.” But a recent report on mercury and PCB contamination of fish along the California Coast has left me a concerned wife and mother.
Let me back up a bit. My son’s first deep-sea fishing experience was quite successful. Not only did he catch a beautiful salmon, it was also a bonding experience that led to my now husband proposing marriage. You see Frank is a sport fisherman and he’d decided Corbin would benefit from a rite-of-passage fishing trip. Some good old male bonding, and I was along for the ride.
After days of preparation, hours out at sea, excruciating seasickness (yes, that was me hanging over the side of the boat), and finally, some good luck, a fish was caught and she was a beauty. As Frank taught Corbin to offer prayers of gratitude and how to bleed the fish with as much mercy as is possible when you’re taking a life, I did my best to keep my head up and support their moment of glory. I felt somehow that this fish must have been a mom too, sacrificing her life so that my son could have the experience, and I could get back to land sooner than later.
So it is that fishing has become a part of our life, and I care now more than ever before about the quality of our oceans, and the effects air and water pollution has on the health of our children.
I’m no longer invited on fishing trips (for obvious reasons), but the boys go out seasonally, and Corbin now teaches his friends how to fish. Part of that conversation sadly, is about toxins. “Because” he says with his 10-year-old wisdom, “It’s important we don’t get the big fish because they’ve been eating too many little ones and then we get all the chemicals from the ocean into our bodies.”
Millions of mothers prepare fish for their children in an effort to stay health by eating less red meat. However, mercury (and other heavy metal) contamination in seafood is making the better choice less clear cut – no pun intended.
California’s State Water Resources Control Board’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) recently released findings from state’s largest-ever survey of contaminants in sport fish from coastal locations. The two-year study found that methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are the two greatest concerns.
Methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are both known toxins that increase risk of cancer, brain damage, and a myriad of other health concerns, including interruption of normal nervous system development in children and adolescents. With rates of contamination in up to 63% of the locations tested along California’s coast, it does not take much to think there must be some correlation with the increased incidence of children with behavioral disorders and learning disabilities.
Results of the study show San Francisco Bay and San Diego Bay as having the highest elevated concentrations of PCB’s. PCBs are a group of chemical compounds once widely used as coolants and lubricants in flame retardants, hydraulic fluids, transformers, and other electrical equipment, sealants, paint, varnish, inks and pesticides. The U.S. government banned the production of PCBs in 1977, but as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), PCBs continue to be released into the environment from hazardous waste sites, illegal or improper dumping, and leaks from old PCB containing equipment.
The study warns, “Children may be exposed to PCBs – also classified as Neurotoxins, Endocrine Disruptors, and Developmental Toxicants – by eating contaminated fish or by coming into contact with soil or water contaminated near hazardous waste sites.” PCBs also cross the placental barrier to expose developing babies in the womb.
Pregnant women and young children are at greatest risk of suffering the ill effects of mercury and PCB exposure. Energy plants burning coal are one of the largest sources of mercury pollution. Large fish such as swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel should be avoided whenever possible.
While I’m not yet prepared to tell my guys, “No more fishing!”…I’m also not prepared to sit by idly. The survival of our biosphere, that is, where life can survive, and not just our species, but all species, is dependent on clean air and clean water.
As mothers, we must speak up for our children, and for all species on this planet we share. We must join forces to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of our air and water resources, and strive for daily habits and legislation that supports their use for the benefit of present and future generations.
Kimberly Danek Pinkson:
As the Founder of the 11,000+ member international organization EcoMom® Alliance, empowering women to make healthier lifestyle choices, Kimberly Pinkson is an expert in sustainable living and consumer behavior, producing campaigns that reach over 1 million people each year. Drawing on a sense of global interconnection and healthy living that was instilled when she went on her first Native American based Vision Quest at the age of thirteen, Kimberly is an inspiring public speaker, holistic wellness expert, environmental health advocate, and mother. She is a popular media guest having appeared on media outlets such as the TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, CBS Morning News, and 20/20 and she has been a keynote speaker at events such as the World Women’s Forum in Seoul, Korea and the Marketing to Moms Conference in North Carolina. Kimberly is currently an environmental health and brand messaging consultant and a member of the Speaker’s Board for the Just Label It Campaign, which recently garnered more public response than any previous such endeavor: over 1 million signatures submitted to the FDA in support of labeling genetically engineered food. She is also the CoFounder of ecomom.com
Thank you, Kimberly!
All photos used with permission.