“Fraser River sockeye face chemical soup of 200 contaminants”

 

Cohen Commisson: new summer clothing line

That’s the headline on the Globe & Mail article yesterday. Another decent summary by Mark Hume, and continued information release on salmon.

The Globe & Mail article:

Sockeye salmon are exposed to a soup of chemicals in the Fraser River, and some of the ingredients are accumulating to potentially lethal levels in eggs, while others may be disrupting the sexual function of fish, according to a scientific review conducted for the Cohen Commission.

The study states that because of key data gaps, it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about exactly how the 200 contaminants identified in the river have affected the growth, survival rates or reproduction of salmon.

There is the great salmon killer again… data gaps, lack of information, and conclusions gone ‘missing’ (like the Fraser sockeye of 2009 and other years).

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Who’s looking… mr(s) Data Gap?

The issue of pollutants and chemicals is a scary, scary beast. Not just because of the risks that chemicals present (especially newer synthetic ones with little research to prove safety — for example fire retardants that are sprayed at will on BC forest fires and then accumulate in soils and waterways) —- but mostly, because of the great, gigantic, gaping void of data and research.

The great Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) ban of the 1970s due to bio-accumulation in critters, including people, in the Arctic and across North America  — which hasn’t really gone away. PCBs were used heavily through the 1930s on, until the ban came in to play. And, in many parts of the ‘developing’ world, are still used heavily.

New chemicals, many created in labs of a variety of concoctions, are much, much spookier. Marketing spin and scant research in ‘real world’ environments results in mass usage of many of these chemicals with little to no monitoring of impacts on ecosystems and critter health (including humans). Added to scant research is the immense myriad of other chemicals being introduced into watersheds — pharmaceuticals like cialis/viagara, birth control hormones and chemicals; antibiotics, steroids;  fire retardants, industrial chemicals, and so on.

And who is researching the impact of these chemicals mixing?

We’re taught from an early age not to mix various housecleaning chemicals due the dangers that that poses… what happens when you mix PCDDs (Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins) + PCDFs (dibenzofurans) +  PCBs + TCDD (2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin) + BEHP (Phthalates) + PAHs (acenaphthalene, benz(a)anthracene, and dibenz(a,h)anthracene) + a little dose of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious…?

From the Cohen Commission report #2 (pg 130):

Data on the interactive effects of contaminants (such as endocrine disruptors), disease agents, and water temperature on sockeye salmon are not available for the Fraser River Basin or elsewhere.

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Endocrine Disrupt what…?

The Cohen Commission report — Technical Report #2: Potential Effects of Contaminants on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon — can be downloaded from the Cohen Commission evidence and transcripts of May 9, 2011. (I would put it on here, unfortunately this 603 page report exceeds the upload capabilities of this site…).

The Globe and Mail article continues:

While it is unlikely that contaminants are “the sole cause” of sockeye population declines, the report says there is “a strong possibility that exposure to contaminants of concern, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and/or contaminants of emerging concern has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon.

The report, by McDonald Environmental Sciences Ltd., a Nanaimo-based research firm, identified numerous chemicals in surface waters and in bottom sediments that posed potential risks to sockeye, including nitrate, chloride, sulphate, arsenic, mercury and selenium.

It said some of the chemicals exceeded toxicity levels for fish and it noted that “water quality conditions have degraded over the past two decades.”

The report also says research done in 2001 and 2004 found some chemicals were concentrating in the eggs of sockeye at toxicity levels “associated with 30 per cent mortality of fish eggs.

If you haven’t read about endocrine disruptors… maybe don’t… the old saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ may hold true…

These are nasty chemicals that mess with one of the oldest biological ‘systems’ — the endocrine system. There is some decent summary information at Wikipedia:

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with endocrine (or hormone system) in animals, including humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females, etc. Any system in the body controlled by hormones, can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

The Cohen Commission technical report states (pg 100):

There is a substantial body of scientific evidence demonstrating that many of the substances released to the environment due to human activities have the potential to modulate or disrupt the endocrine system in fish…

…Based on the results of the qualitative exposure assessment… it is apparent that Fraser River sockeye salmon may be exposed to endocrine disrupting compounds originating from multiple sources [including: Sewage treatment plants; Pulp and paper mills; and Areas with high industrial activity/chemical contamination].

The report has a table outlining Fraser sockeye exposures during migration — juveniles and adults.

pg 102 of Technical Report #2

.

…Overall, this information suggests that stocks utilizing spawning habitats located furthest from the mouth of the river (i.e., those with the longest residence times in migration corridors) are likely to have the highest exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds, while those destined for natal streams nearby the mouth of the Fraser River are likely to have the lowest exposure to these chemicals.

Is it coincidence then that the majority of sockeye stocks from the upper Fraser (north of Quesnel) are the ones in the most trouble, and have seen most of the big declines over the last half century?

The Early Stuart run, Bowron, Nadina, etc.

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The Great Gap…

The Globe & Mail article continues:

Among the endocrine disrupting ingredients identified in the Fraser were industrial chemicals, pesticides, compounds with a carbon-metal bond, pharmaceuticals and “several estrogen-like compounds,” the report says.

It states that data are insufficient to evaluate the impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds, but [and] notes reports from First Nation fishermen that salmon are smaller on average, increasingly have blotchy skin and of one male sockeye that had ovaries, are cause for concern.

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Not only is data “insufficient” — there simply just isn’t any. No one is really looking. No one — in management institutions — seems to really care.

Maybe ignorance is bliss has become a bureaucratic principle…? (e.g. not my department, not my worry…)

Pg. 122 of the Cohen Commission report:

In particular, there is substantial uncertainty regarding the types and quantities of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides that are currently being used within the watershed.

It’s not just uncertainty… it’s so bad that the only way to track what herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and so on that are being sprayed, applied, spilled etc. throughout the watershed is through sales receipts.

In addition, limitations on the available source and monitoring data made it difficult to identify all of the pharmaceuticals and personal care products, endocrine disrupting compounds, and contaminants of emerging concern that could have been released within the study area.

Worse yet:

many agencies and regulated interests maintain their own databases that are not readily available to the public or do not have a systematic means of storing and retrieving such data. As such, it is difficult or impossible to assemble all of the information needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks posed to sockeye salmon associated with exposure to contaminants in the Fraser River Basin.

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Conclusion?

While limitations on the available data make it difficult to answer this question conclusively, the results of this study suggest that the exposure to contaminants in surface water, sediments, or fish tissues is not the primary factor influencing the productivity or abundance of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

However, it is a strong possibility that exposure to the contaminants of concern and/or uncertain contaminants of concern (i.e., endocrine disrupting compounds and contaminants of emerging concern) has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon abundance in the Fraser River Basin over the past 20 years.

One more reason for even stronger application of the precautionary approach and high-time for the blissful ignorance of government agencies to end on this one.

For example, have you ever traveled through the Fraser watershed in the summer? You know that same water that sockeye migrate through? Well… ummm… where do you think all of that water spraying on fields is coming from?

Same place.

If sockeye are facing a chemical soup… that same chemical soup is being sprayed on hay fields and whatever other irrigated crop. Cows, sheep, goats, etc. are eating the hay. We eat the cows, sheep, goats, vegetables, and so on.

What befalls the sockeye… befalls us.

(not to mention lots of folks eat sockeye…)

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