Louisiana drops warning against eating fish from Sibley Lake

Published 02-06-2019

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Authorities say man-made toxins known as PCBs no longer contaminate fish in a central Louisiana lake, so people can stop limiting the amount of their catch that they eat.

It's the first time since such advisories began 35 years ago that Louisiana has been able to cancel one of those warnings, Al Hindrichs, a senior environmental scientist for the Department of Environmental Quality, said Wednesday.

He said one of his counterparts in the state Department of Health had worked on such advisories since the early 1980s, and retired the day those departments and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries signed the agreement dropping the warning for Sibley Lake, the reservoir for Natchitoches. "She was happy, to say the least," Hindrichs said in a telephone interview from Baton Rouge.

The change leaves 58 waterways where fish have been found to carry enough PCBs, mercury or other pollutants to be considered unsafe, or safe only in limited amounts, or where swimming is barred because of contaminated sediments.

Louisiana's first fish consumption advisory, against eating any fish from Capitol Lake in Baton Rouge, was made in 1983. It still stands.

The first advisory at Sibley Lake was made in February 1989. It said nobody should eat or sell fish caught in the 2,000-acre (800-hectare) reservoir.

The previous August, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. had notified DEQ that it had found PCBs in some of the wastewater from a plant to compress natural gas for pipeline transport. The chemical apparently came from traces of a lubricant that had last been used in 1968, according to a department report.

Under a 1992 settlement with DEQ, the company removed and replaced contaminated sediment in a small part of the lake. After fish were tested in 1996, the ban on eating fish from the lake was changed to recommend eating at most 8 ounces (226 grams) a month of some species or up to 8 ounces a week of others. The public was told not to eat any gar, shad or carp from the lake.

In addition, the advisory said those fish approved for consumption should be skinned, trimmed of fat - in which PCBs accumulate - and broiled, grilled or baked to ensure that any remaining fat dripped away.

"These fish should not be fried because this traps the contaminants in the fish," the advisory noted.

After more than 30 years of sampling the lake's se

The previous August, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. had notified DEQ that it had found PCBs in some of the wastewater from a plant to compress natural gas for pipeline transport. The chemical apparently came from traces of a lubricant that had last been used in 1968, according to a department report.

Under a 1992 settlement with DEQ, the company removed and replaced contaminated sediment in a small part of the lake. After fish were tested in 1996, the ban on eating fish from the lake was changed to recommend eating at most 8 ounces (226 grams) a month of some species or up to 8 ounces a week of others. The public was told not to eat any gar, shad or carp from the lake.

In addition, the advisory said those fish approved for consumption should be skinned, trimmed of fat - in which PCBs accumulate - and broiled, grilled or baked to ensure that any remaining fat dripped away.

"These fish should not be fried because this traps the contaminants in the fish," the advisory noted.

After more than 30 years of sampling the lake's sediments and fish, the three departments lifted the advisory Dec. 21. The decision was announced Tuesday in a news release, after comments from various officials were approved, Hindrichs said.

He said some other sites may be close to having their advisories lifted, with Bayou Bonfouca probably the closest. About 7 miles (11 kilometers) of the bayou run alongside a former Superfund site where fire burst creosote storage tanks. The wood preservative, a coal tar product, ran across the site and into the bayou.

Although an advisory against eating fish from the bayou was lifted some time ago, Bayou Bonfouca is among four waterways where the agencies say people shouldn't swim. Two of those also have fish consumption advisories.

The department may not yet have enough sediment data to satisfy the Department of Health about Bayou Bonfouca's safety, Hindrichs said.

In addition, the advisory said those fish approved for consumption should be skinned, trimmed of fat - in which PCBs accumulate - and broiled, grilled or baked to ensure that any remaining fat dripped away.

"These fish should not be fried because this traps the contaminants in the fish," the advisory noted.

After more than 30 years of sampling the lake's sediments and fish, the three departments lifted the advisory Dec. 21. The decision was announced Tuesday in a news release, after comments from various officials were approved, Hindrichs said.

He said some other sites may be close to having their advisories lifted, with Bayou Bonfouca probably the closest. About 7 miles (11 kilometers) of the bayou run alongside a former Superfund site where fire burst creosote storage tanks. The wood preservative, a coal tar product, ran across the site and into the bayou.

Although an advisory against eating fish from the bayou was lifted some time ago, Bayou Bonfouca is among four waterways where the agencies say people shouldn't swim. Two of those also have fish consumption advisories.

The department may not yet have enough sediment data to satisfy the Department of Health about Bayou Bonfouca's safety, Hindrichs said.

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