EPA TO TEST TOXIC SAIPAN LAND CRABS

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 10) – Five years after residents were banned from eating Tanapag land crabs because they carried high levels of the toxic substance polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is retesting the crabs.

Land crabs used to be a regular staple of the local diet in Tanapag and elsewhere on Saipan.

The Department of Public Health issued a consumption ban for Tanapag land crabs in 2000 due to suspected cancer-causing PCBs found in crab samples.

EPA’s latest statement was in response to a request from Health Secretary Dr. James U. Hofschneider to do a follow-up study on the safety of land crabs.

The request also came after the federal clean up of over 40,000 tons of PCB-contaminated soil in Tanapag.

John McCarroll, manager of EPA Pacific Island Office, said he agrees with Hofschneider that enough time has passed since the removal of PCB-contaminated soil in the village, for another evaluation of the land crabs.

"We are planning to conduct the study in 2005," McCarroll told Hofschneider in a Dec. 22 letter.

McCarroll said EPA is now drafting a sampling plan, and consulting with their toxicologist to determine a statistically significant number of crabs to collect.

"The draft plan will be available for comment by you, the Division of Environmental Quality and the community," he added.

Hofschneider, in his letter to McCarroll, suggested a good sampling of perhaps at least 30 crabs, from areas that produced the highest PCB levels in the land crabs years ago.

"Please kindly provide us with a plan and a time-table of activities by January 15, 2005, as we work together to mitigate the health effects of environmental exposures in the CNMI," said Hofschneider.

EPA on-scene coordinator Michelle Rogow — who oversaw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ PCB clean up of Tanapag — will be the lead for the land crab follow-up study.

Rogow will work in close coordination with the Division of Environmental Quality staff for assistance in collecting, packing and shipping the crabs to EPA’s laboratory for analysis, said McCarroll.

He added that EPA is in communication with DEQ director John Castro, and will schedule the study based on the DEQ staff’s and Rogow’s availability.

In Nov. 2004, officials of the Tanapag Action Group pressed Public Health to cause a follow-up study on PCBs in land crabs.

"Despite the fact that there are no future plans for another sampling to survey and determine the level of toxicity in the land crabs, notice has never been issued for public direction," TAG vice chairman Ben Sablan told Hofschneider in a letter.

Public Health earlier said that the average PCB levels found among the sampled land crabs in Tanapag is 0.02 parts per million, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers less than 2.0 ppm of PCB as "safe."

However, Public Health said due to lack of information about PCB and its long-term effects, the safest way to protect humans is to prohibit the consumption of land crabs tainted with low levels of PCB.

January 10, 2005

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

 

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