High levels of lead found in mussels, clams, bait fish in Raritan Bay

June 26, 2009 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Tests on mussels, clams and foraging fish near the Laurence Harbor Sea Wall in Old Bridge, have revealed high levels of lead, the Environmental Protection Agency reported today.

The amount of lead found in ribbed mussels ranged from 3 to 8.6 parts per million. In softshell clams the amount ranged from 3.4 to 17 parts per million and hardshell clams from 1.7 to 3.1 parts per million. In foraging fish or bait fish the amount of lead found ranged from 0.49 to 0.92 parts per million.

Currently, there is no standard for safe levels of lead in these marine animals, said Calliope C. Alexander an environmental scientist for New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

However, Sharon Kubiak, a program specialist from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, said there is no safe level of lead in a child’s body.

“This is very dangerous,” said Peter Defur, a biologist and environmental consultant for Environmental Stewardship Concepts based in Richmond, Va., who works on contaminated sites. “I’ve never seen such high numbers in the 30 years I’ve been doing this.”

Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, a nonprofit environmental organization said the numbers are alarming. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know how far up the food chain this goes.”

Extreme exposure to lead can cause neurological damage, kidney disease, cardiovascular problems and reproductive toxicity, according to the EPA Web site.

Two months ago, the EPA reported high levels of lead in three waterfront sites along Raritan Bay in Old Bridge and Sayreville. The EPA fenced off the areas and prohibited fishing.
David Gard/For The Star-Ledger
Despite the warning signs, anglers still toss their fishing lines in Raritan Bay in Old Bridge.Officials in Old Bridge and Sayreville have blamed the contamination on National Lead Industries, which had a paint manufacturing facility in Sayreville for decades. Several smelting operations along the Raritan from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s are also cited.

Fishermen, who have been eating fish caught from Raritan Bay for years, expressed their concerns at a meeting at Keyport Borough Hall Thursday, before the new tests results were available.

“I’ve been fishing in these waters my entire life,” said Raymond Swoboda Jr., 40, of Edison. “These are bait that we use to catch fish, and we’ve been eating those fish.”

More than 50 worried fishermen, residents and delegates from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) attended the meeting, which was organized by environmental groups NY/NJ Baykeeper and the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council.

Representatives from the EPA, DEP, state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry updated the audience and initiated a question and answer session.

In the earlier tests, the EPA said the western jetty near Cheesequake Creek revealed lead levels of 198,000 parts per million-nearly 500 times the residential limit of 400 parts per million. Average lead levels in the area were 52,399 parts per million. At the Laurence Harbor sea wall area, the range of lead found was as high as 142,000 parts per million. At the half-acre beach area in Sayreville, just north of the Cheesequake Creek jetty, lead was also 142,000 parts per million.

Signs and approximately 4,200 feet of fence have been erected around the areas. But the fencing isn’t keeping everyone out, acknowledged Andrew L. Confortini, who is heading the cleanup.

”We’ve had kids tearing down the fence at night,” he said. “Day after day we put it up and they tear it down.” Confortini said they are working with police to upgrade a camera system there and to beef-up patrols.

While many fishermen and residents applauded the EPA’s efforts, some argued for more. Others said the efforts created an eyesore from their properties, which they fear are dropping in value.

Officials from the EPA acknowledged the cleanup would take several years.

Still, Swoboda was worried. “What does this say to an individual like me who has eaten everything (in the Raritan)?” he asked. “What does this say about the lead levels in my body?”

 by Aliyah Shahid

The Star-Ledger

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Region. Tags: , , , , .

Ferry between Sag Harbor and NYC Fishing Column

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