Sports fish in San Francisco Bay are so contaminated with PCBs, mercury, dioxin and pesticides that health officials are issuing an advisory against eating them more than twice a month.
The warning, based on the most comprehensive study yet of fish around a dozen piers and fishing holes in the Bay, was issued Friday by the California Environmental Protection Agency. It will be in effect until scientists can perform in-depth health assessments on every chemical. It is unclear when the work will be completed.Salmon, herring, anchovies and smelt are exempt from the advisory. Striped bass longer than 27 inches and shark longer than 24 inches should be avoided, state officials said.
Children under age 6 and pregnant or nursing women shouldn't eat anything from the Bay, they said.
Past dumping from industry, farms and sewage plants has polluted the waters so much that Bay residents can't live on fish from its waters, said Steve Ritchie, administrator of the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Control Board.
"We are seeing the consequences of the bad old days of Bay pollution, rather than what's being discharged today," Ritchie said. "Our study shows there are still problems, and we will use this information to better target our pollution-control efforts in the future."
Particularly at risk are people who fish for food, who often are recent immigrants who have grown up where fishing is a way of life, Ritchie said. The state says it does not know how many people subsist on fish from the Bay.
"While this ... warning has no impact on the vast majority of Bay Area residents who eat fish caught commercially outside the Bay," the state will work with environmental groups "to spread the word in those communities where fish caught in the Bay provides a significant portion of families' diets," Ritchie said.
For years, environmentalists and anglers have tried to persuade the state to conduct monitoring studies and post health advisories in many languages at the Bay's piers.
Multiracial groups such as SAFER - San Francisco Bay Advocates for Environmental Rights, spawned by Citizens for a Better Environment - began organizing fishers at Bay piers. The local campaign inspired 2,000 postcards to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Meantime, the state Bay Protection and Toxic Cleanup Act of 1989 required that agencies identify "hot spots" around the state.
The study released Friday resulted from the act and from the groups' efforts.
Still in effect is a warning issued in April at the Richmond Inner Harbor against eating white croaker, surf perch, bullhead, gobie and shellfish. They said DDT, dieldrin and PCBs tainted the fish.
Surveys by the California Department of Health Services, Citizens for a Better Environment and Save San Francisco Bay Association have found that most people don't even know there are health warnings.