Exposure assessment and initial intervention regarding fish consumption of tribal members of the Upper Great Lakes Region in the United States

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Abstract

The Ojibwe Health Study (OHS) has concluded 10 years of data collection and exposure assessment. Eight hundred and twenty-two participants from tribes in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota (USA) completed fish consumption and environmental risk perception questionnaires. Many participants provided hair and blood samples for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) residue analyses as body burden indicators of these persistent environmental pollutants. Fish were collected by the tribal organizations and contaminants were analyzed for numerous tribal reports and professional environmental journal articles, these data were used by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission to produce tribal-specific geographic information systems maps as part of a public health intervention strategy. These maps are currently available at www.glifwc.org for six Wisconsin tribes that regularly harvest walleye. To determine the health impacts (if any) of pollutants on cancer, diabetes, and reproduction, it was necessary to know the recent trends in key indicators such as cancer mortality ratios and birth gender ratios. The Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council provided the OHS and each participating tribe in Wisconsin and Michigan with a health profile. Total fish consumption (estimated by recall) for 720 tribal participants was self-reported as 60 g/day, but the highest actual consumption was measured as 11.2 g/day in one of the tribal groups. The highest blood concentrations in tribal participants were 18.6 ppb total serum PCBs and 11.8 ppb total blood mercury. Ninety percent of the participants had less than 3.8 ppb total serum PCBs and 2.6 ppb total blood mercury. Compared to other studies of subsistence fishing populations, these exposures were only moderately elevated and not high enough to warrant widespread restrictions on diets. Furthermore, the benefits of eating a fish diet must be continually emphasized. However, sport fishermen and their families who consume larger and more contaminated fish should abide by their state fish consumption advisories to minimize their health risks.

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