First Fish Consumption Advisory Issued for Rio Grande

* New Mexico governmental agencies recently issued a "no eat advisory" for fish in the Rio Grande and Rio Chama watersheds for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The New Mexico Environment Department, Health Department, State Parks and Department of Game and Fish advised against eating channel catfish and common carp caught from Abiquiu and Cochiti reservoirs and from the Rio Grande below Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The fish advisory is based on do-not-eat guidelines for various contaminants established by the Environmental Protection Agency. This is the first advisory for fish caught from the Rio Grande.

PCBs are a group of industrial chemicals that are either oily solids or liquids and have been used in electrical equipment, such as transformers and capacitors. The manufacturing of PCBs was banned in 1977 because they bioaccumulate in the environment and are a possible human carcinogen.

PCBs prefer to bind with soil, rather than to stay in water. As a result, they constantly are redistributed in the environment through air, water and soil pathways. The further they travel in the environment, the more concentrated PCBs become.

PCBs also bind with sediments in the bottom of water bodies. Small organisms and fish ingest the PCBs in the water. These animals are then eaten by larger fish, which further accumulate the PCBs in their bodies.

LANL reported in its 2004 Environmental Surveillance Report that they found PCBs in fish in the Rio Grande both above and below LANL. The report stated, "Some [studies] have shown concentrations of PCBs in fish above LANL to be higher than below LANL, and in other [studies] the reverse has been true. Conclusions about contributions from LANL have been less than definitive because the fish are mobile, possibly spending time upstream and downstream from LANL."

However, LANL recently admitted that it may be a source for the PCBs. James Rickman, a LANL spokesperson, said, "Yes, we did use PCBs, and therefore, the laboratory is probably a contributing source."

Recent finings of contamination, such as chromium in a characterization well for the regional aquifer and the PCBs, raise continuing concerns about cleanup at LANL.

This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) requested $90.6 million for environmental clean up at LANL for fiscal year 2007. This represents a cut of about $55 million. Senator Domenici said a funding cut of this size would violate the Consent Order for cleanup at LANL signed last March between DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department.

Senator Domenici said, "Obviously, this is one budget request that we will have to work through. The DOE will have to explain its rationale behind an idea that will only allow LANL to meet about half of its obligations."

Activists are pleased that Senator Domenici has expressed his concern about the proposed funding cut and his commitment to ensure that the funding is restored. Joni Arends of CCNS said, "We must protect our drinking water supplies. Congress must provide adequate and consistent funding for cleanup activities at LANL. We must hold LANL accountable for the environmental contamination caused by their activities over the past 63 years."

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