Fishing and harvesting shellfish form a major part of the Alaskan lifestyle. While most fish and shellfish in Alaska form a healthy part of the Alaskan diet, some that are harvested from contaminated sites around the State may contain harmful levels of chemicals. The Environmental Public Health Program has worked with several communities living in the vicinity of contaminated sites to determine whether harvesting from these locations is safe and whether consumption of these fish and shellfish should be limited. The Salt Chuck Mine (SCM) site in Southeast Alaska on Prince of Wales Island represents one of these communities. The SCM is an abandoned gold, silver, copper, and palladium mine on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List of Superfund sites. This presentation will highlight our risk assessment process that we used to determine whether harvesting traditional foods at Salt Chuck Mine present a health risk.
We evaluated the most recent data available from EPA in 2011 and 2012 in combination with community-specific subsistence harvest history and surveys to evaluate human health risks from exposure to contaminants measured at the site. These data included sample analysis results for metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in clams and other traditional foods, marine sediment, and surface water.
Harvesting and consuming a variety of clams and vegetation from the SCM site is not expected to harm health. We determined that an adult eating more than 14 pounds or a child eating more than 6 pounds of soft shell clams (and eating the entire neck/siphon of these clams) per year harvested from the SCM site may have increased health risks from inorganic arsenic ingestion. And finally, users who regularly collect and consume substantial amounts of clams and vegetation from this site who have certain liver and iron metabolism diseases may be at elevated risk of chronic iron toxicity.
The SCM is a contaminated former mine site where people have historically harvested traditional foods. We concluded that harvesting a variety of clams and vegetation from the SCM site is not expected to harm health.