Impact of Toxic Chemicals on Indigenous Communities

A young brook trout at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal fish hatchery.
A young brook trout at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal fish hatchery.
SARAH BIRD

Interlochen Public Radio and Michigan Public Radio aired a story about toxic chemicals in fish in the Great Lakes, particularly their impact on indigenous peoples, quoting Noel Urban (CEE) and Jerry Jondreau (SFRES).

When fish advisories threaten a traditional way of life

If you eat wild caught fish from Michigan, you might know about fish consumption advisories. They’re recommended limits on safe amounts of fish to eat, and they’re necessary because toxic chemicals build up in fish in the Great Lakes and inland lakes and streams.

A toxic burden

Around this same time, an invisible problem emerged: toxic contamination of fish by chemicals like methylmercury and poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Noel Urban is a professor at Michigan Technological University who studies pollutants cycling through the environment. He tells me the chemicals that build up in fish are still being emitted around the world.

“So mercury’s primary sources are coal-fired power plants, mining, metal processing. PCBs are emitted from landfills, from wastewater treatment plants, from transformers that are still in use that have PCBs, agricultural chemicals are also in this so there’s a wide variety of sources,” he explains.

Read more and listen to the audio interview at Interlochen Public Radio and Michigan Public Radio, by Kaye LaFond.

U.P. tribe wants to know: “When can we eat the fish?” Researchers try to answer.

“When can we eat the fish?”

That’s what the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wants to know.

“Culturally-relevant” fish advisories

In 2008, Valoree Gagnon was still an undergraduate student at Michigan Technological University. She learned that toxic chemicals like mercury and PCBs build up in fish in the region. And she learned that not everyone limits their fish intake, especially tribal communities.

“They were consuming fish at rates that were above human health criteria, and that was a really big concern for me,” she says.

Read more and listen to the audio interview at Michigan Public Radio, by Kaye LaFond.


Comments Closed