LOW PCB LEVEL FOUND IN SAIPAN LAND CRABS

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DPH Advises Against Consumption Of Local Delicacy From Tanapag

By Marian A. Maraya Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 6, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---The Department of Public Health has warned against the consumption of land crabs harvested from Tanapag village, after tests confirmed the presence of low-level polychlorinated biphenyl in some land crab samples.

The agency released yesterday a health advisory that will take effect indefinitely, pending the completion of a more comprehensive study that will determine the impact of low-dose PCB among the land crab-consuming public.

Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez made the announcement based on raw data released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which confirmed the presence of low-level PCB on some land crabs tested in Tanapag.

EPA, which conducted the test last December 2000, took close to 100 land crabs from five different areas in and around the village.

According to Villagomez and DPH Medical Director Dr. Richard Brostrom, the levels of PCB found in land crabs from Tanapag are well below the standard established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for PCBs in fish and shellfish.

These detectable levels, however, approach the more conservative guidelines of EPA, and there is some scientific uncertainty regarding the prolonged effects of low-level PCB exposure.

"Information we have on the long-term effect of low-level dose of PCB is still scarce but still we advise the public to stay away from consuming land crabs, rather than tell them it’s safe to eat and find out ten years from now that it wasn’t. We recommend that they don’t eat it at all since results show there are some levels of PCB in them," said Villagomez.

Details of the EPA land crab test results will be released by the federal agency sometime next week.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, for its part, will likewise share with the public their findings on the implications of those results, according to the DPH chief.

In addition, the local health department has requested EPA to conduct another land crab testing to re-evaluate the safety of land crab consumption in the future.

"We expect this advisory to remain in effect until such sampling is completed and results have been evaluated by Commonwealth and federal health professionals," said Villagomez.

In the U.S. mainland, related studies have been conducted on shellfish and other lake fishes but never on land crabs.

"This is the first time it’s being done on land crabs. But still, it’s very difficult to extract from those U.S. studies and apply it to the Tanapag village," he explained.

Villagomez said that while a relatively high level of PCB was detected on land crab samples within the Tanapag cemetery 2 areas, residents have to keep in mind that these creatures are capable of moving around.

"So our advice is don’t eat crabs from Tanapag, Villagomez reiterated.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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