HERMITAGE, Pa. (WKBN) – The deep waters near the Shenango River Dam are one of Nick Fiests’ favorite fishing holes.
“The river is usually where all the big fish are at… We just caught a big striper the other day. It was 28 inches long. It was pretty big,” Fiest said.
Until WKBN spoke with him on Tuesday, though, he had no idea that the fish were contaminated.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday that fish in the river tested extremely high for PCBs – nearly 10 times what’s safe for human consumption. As such, people were warned not to eat fish from the Shenango River in Mercer and Lawrence counties.
Youngstown State University Professor Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer said the chemical causes cancer and neurological issues.
“They were actually banned in 1979, so we are looking at almost 40 years ago, they were banned, but they are still hanging around,” he said.
Aqua Pennsylvania draws all of its drinking water for thousands of people from the river running through Sharon, right in the tainted zone.
Both the company and the professor say the water is safe to drink, however.
“The water should be OK, but it’s in the sediment. Unfortunately, the little stuff lives in the sediment, and they wound up getting eaten,” Beiersdorfer said.
Still, he said it would be foolish to go against the warning and eat the fish.
Feist says he sometimes eats the fish he catches from the river, but he won’t anymore.
The state says they’ll keep testing the fish, to see if the levels stay high, or if they go back down. Then they’ll decide what to do next.
Aqua Pennsylvania says they test for PCBs and have not found any in the water supply, issuing the following statement on Tuesday:
Aqua Pennsylvania has found no detectable level of PCBs in the treated water supply to our customers. The MCL for PCBs in water is 0.5 parts per billion (ppb). Aqua’s most recent tests conducted in May and July of 2017 were non-detect.
PCBs are toxic chemicals that have had implications to the environment for decades. We have followed issues associated with PCBs and have sampled our water supply for many years.
PCBs are rarely found in water. By nature, they tend to stick to solids, such as sediment, including when introduced to a watershed.”
While most fish caught in Pennsylvania are safe to eat, chemicals like PCBs and mercury have been found in some fish from certain waters. The Pennsylvania Department of Health issues its Fish Consumption Advisory yearly so that people can limit their exposure to such contaminants.