Eateries get fish
from unclean lakes
Scientists and the leader of
Florida's fishing industry said
testing fish is a logical step.
.By PAUL SHUKOVSKY
Tribune Staff Writer
LAKELAND Tons of catfish and Nile perch
caught in polluted Florida waters are shipped to restau-
rants and supermarkets around the nation without rou-
tine testing of the fish for toxic chemical residues.
Several scientists contacted by the Tribune, along
with the leader of Florida's fishing Industry, said testing
fith is a logical step for the state.
More than 479,000 pounds of fish were taken in 1985,
from Polk County's lakes, which are among the most'
polluted in the state, according to state game commis-
sion and environmental officials.
Among them are lakes Hancock and Banana.
"It (Hancock) ranks right up there as one of the
poorest lakes In the state," said Joe Hand, a state De-
partment of Environmental Regulation specialist on
lake water quality.
S There are no data available on specific chemical pot-
lutants found In the two lakes, Hand said. But an exam-
pie of the environmental Insults suffered by the lakes is
See FISH, Page 4A
From Page 1A
the effluent discharged into themi
from Lakeland's Glendale Street
sewage treatment plant
An analysis of the effluent found
various amounts of mercury, lead,
cadmium and arsenic, according t
a June 1986 report from the city o01
Lakeland lab. The effluent also con
tains complex hydrocarbons -
chemical wastes from area Industry.
The problem of fish taken from;
polluted waters in Florida is not llm.
ited to Polk County. The St. Johns
River, a major source of commer.
clal catfish, has pollution problems.
There were 2.9 million pounds of
catfish caught in the St Johns River
in the one-year period ending June
30, 1985, according to fish commis-
sion biologist Marty Hale.
Elevated levels of hydrocarbons
and heavy metals were found in St.
Johns fish in 1983 and 1985, studies
by Jacksonville University marine
fti .ologist Quinton White show. White
.las been seeking the cause of ulcers
discovered on some fish in the river.
"While there is no immediate
health hazard (from St. Johns fish),
there is enough of a potential hazard
to warrant monitoring," White said.
The exact size of Florida's com-
mercial, freshwater catch is not
known, said Bob Wattendorf, assist-
ant director of fisheries for the fish
commission. But figures compiled
for specific areas such as Lake Oke-
echobee, where the catch was 6.2
million pounds in fiscal 1984-85, give
an idea of the magnitude of the in-
Lake Okeechobee has garnered
considerable attention recently be-
cause agricultural runoff has pol-
luted the lake and caused it to be-
come choked with algae.
When lakes such as Okeechobee
and Hancock show such obvious
signs of deterioration, it is only logi-
cdl to monitor the fish that swim in
them, said Chris Schmitt, a scientist
at the National Fisheries Research
Center in Columbia, Mo.
Routine monitoring of fish taken
from polluted waters is a good idea,
said Jerry Sansom, executive direc-
tor of Organized Fisherman of Flor-
ida. a commercial fishing trade as-
'We don't want to put any unsafe
>r unwholesome products oa the
market," Sansom said. "It's incum-
tent on the state to see if there are
my problems there."
Scientists say chronic exposure
o low levels of toxic substances can
mrduce disease in people after a
,wriod of time. While the precise
healthh effects of eating contami-
,**ted fish are not known, many of
he contaminants are suspected of
usingg cancer, birth defects and
Florida's Chemical Residue Lab
in the Department of Agriculture
and Consumer Services does not
regularly test freshwater fish be-
cause they have had no indication of
a contamination problem, lab chief
George Fong said.
in fiscal year 1985-6, the lab
tested only 54 seafood samples, Fong
said, almost all of which were from
salt water. None of the tests showed
contamination levels in excess of the
limits set by the federal government
Such small-scale testing is un-
likely to result in meaningful data,
according to Michael Connor, a ma-
rine biologist at the Battelle labs in
Ducksbury, Mass., who conducted a
study on the risk of eating fresh-
water fish at the Harvard School of
The study found that pesticide
contamination is an average of 10
times higher in freshwater fish than
in saltwater species. It also found
that eating freshwater fish carries
with it a small increased risk of can-
Other states with significant
freshwater fishing such as Michi-
gan, Missouri, New Jersey, Wiscon-
sin and California routinely test
In New York, the Department of
Health issues consumption adviso-
ries baaed on data from the state's
annual fish sampling and testing pro-
An example of one New York ad-
visory issued to the news media for
Canadice Lake stated: "Lake or
brown trout over 21 inches, EAT
New York fish have been con-
taminated by some of the same sub-
stances found In Lakeland's treat-
ment plant effluent as well as with
pesticides that have been used by
Florida's citrus Industry, according
to Tony Forti of the Bureau of Toxic
Substances Assessment in Albany,
N.Y. He cited dieldrin, chlordane,
cadmium and mercury as contami-
nants found in New York fish.
Dieldrin was used by the citrus
Industry to kill root weevils before
being banned more than a decade
ago, according to Joe Knapp. a
scientist at the Lake Alfred Citrus
Research Center. Chlordane was'
used to kill termites in citrus trees,
Knapp said. Although Knapp said he
had no way of knowing if the pesti-
cides have found their way into Cen-
tral Florida lakes, he said that class
of pesticides tend to persist in the
environment for a long time before
"Chlordane and dieldrin are the
kind of compounds you would worry
about," said Massachusetts marine
Although the federal Food and
Drug Administration has tested
some samples of fish flesh in the
past, FDA does "virtually no fresh-
water fish testing because of the
lack of interstate commerce," said
Terry Forrest, supervisory investiga-
tor of FDA's Orlando office.
When Forrest was told that tons
of Florida freshwater fish are
shipped out of state he expressed
Recent reports from the U.S.
General Accounting Office to Con-
gress cited shortcomings of the
FDA's program to sample pesticides
and said, "FDA does not regularly
test food for a large number of pesti-
cides that can be used or may be
present in food."
Meanwhile, almost 5,000
licensed freshwater fishermen con-
tinue to cast their nets in polluted
If people in Florida expect to
have edible fish, there has to be
stricter enforcement of water qual-
ity regulations, industry leader San-
"We don't want you to have to
eat chicken at Red Lobster," Sansom