Volume 12, Issue 25 ~ June 17-23, 2004
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What Are These PCBs — And Why Are They Messing Up Our Dinner?
New warnings about eating Chesapeake Bay rockfish are disturbing for many reasons.

Not that we see the Department of the Environment’s new guidelines as a show-stopper for fishing or for eating moderate amounts of the Bay harvest. Whether you eat rockfish or not, all of us have most likely been saving up that same chemical in our bodies.

Were we not getting it from rockfish, we might be ingesting it from somewhere else, like those pond-raised salmon we buy at the store.

That said, we think it vitally important to take notice and not just at what Department of the Environment has to say. With so many chemicals loose in the environment, the issue is way bigger.

What the state of Maryland told us for the first time is that because of PCBs, men should eat only two servings of rockfish a month; women and children just one.

What are these PCBs and why are they messing up our dinner?

They are among more than 200 tasteless, odorless, oily liquid compounds that retard heat and thus were used for decades as coolants and lubricants in transformers and other electrical equipment.

Their production was halted in 1977 when it became obvious that they were dangerous.

How dangerous? This is what the government’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says:

“Animals that ate food containing large amounts of PCBs for short periods of time had mild liver damage and some died. Animals that ate smaller amounts of PCBs in food over several weeks or months developed various kinds of health effects, including anemia; acne-like skin conditions; and liver, stomach, and thyroid gland injuries.”

Sounds scary, but nearly everybody has PCBs in their systems — unless they have been very careful. Coincidentally, scientists from around the world are meeting at the University of Illinois this week to talk about the PCBs plague, and one of them, U of I professor Larry Hansen, told the Associated Press: “It’s inescapable. They’re all over the world, everywhere.”

That doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands. PCBs came to us in the Chemical Age as an unregulated miracle. It took decades for the government to take stock of the dangers and rein in the corporate scientists behind them.

Are we remaining vigilant about the new generation of miracle substances coming our way? Should we be concerned that Monsanto Co., the sole American manufacturer of PCBs from the 1930s to the 1970s, is the same company in the forefront of altering the building blocks of our food supply with genetic engineering?

Should we take note that the corporate-friendly Bush administration has rolled back environmental protections?

Is it clear yet that we must be pro-active to protect our families?

Rockfish have been a Chesapeake Bay success story, the model worldwide for restoring a fishery in peril. Recently, we learned that about half of the Bay’s rockfish are infected with something called mycobacteriosis.

Not only do we learn that the Bay’s signature fish is wasting away. Now we’re told we shouldn’t eat more than a plateful or two a month.

You may choose to stop eating, but we certainly hope you don’t stop thinking about what has gone wrong.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.