In NYC Area, Contaminated Fish on the Plate

by Ben Somberg

July 31, 2009

More New Yorkers are fishing off area piers in this economy, and, in many cases, eating unsafe amounts of fish contaminated with PCBs and mercury. That was the thrust of a NY Daily News report earlier this month. They also reported that there were extremely few signs alerting the public to any kind of danger. New York City official soon responded that they'd put up more warning signs.

CPR Member Scholar Catherine O'Neill discussed the fish contamination issues on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show on Wednesday.

O'Neill says that warning signs have regularly proven ineffective across the country. The information often fails to reach and inform its intended audience. Among other things, signs often don't cover all the languages they'd need to, and advisories frequently fail to convey complex information in a way that is understandable. In addition, the alternatives suggested (or implied) -- e.g., avoiding certain species entirely or altering one’s preparation methods -- may be culturally inappropriate or economically infeasible for some people.

O’Neill contends that a better policy is to involve the communities or groups affected, as they are best able to determine how to reach their members. The immediate goal should be to empower community members to make healthy and culturally appropriate choices for themselves, with complete information about the risks and tradeoffs in hand.

The current fish advisory for New York waters is here.

The photos in this post, taken in the past week at Coney Island and Battery Park, show that signs in the NYC area do not attempt to convey the information from the advisory about the relative dangers of different species of fish, instead giving blanket warnings -- warnings that are regularly ignored.

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