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High Cancer Rates Found in Md. Catfish


January 25, 2006 AP

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - More than half of one species of catfish sampled in the South River had skin tumors, matching the highest rate in the nation, wildlife officials said.


The skin tumor rate of brown bullhead catfish from the South River matched that of brown bullheads taken from the Great Lakes, which had the nation's highest rate. One fifth of the South River bullheads also had liver cancer, second only to the rate found in the Anacostia River in 2001, where nearly 70 percent had liver tumors, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife study released Tuesday.


"The fish are clearly exposed to cancer-causing agents, and at this point, we really don't know what chemicals are responsible," Fred Pinkney, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who conducted the study, told The Washington Post. "We suspect it's from (polluted) runoff."


If more funding is found, the agency hopes to try to identify the carcinogen. The study released Tuesday was funded in part by the South River Federation.


The nonprofit group monitors the 12-mile river, which flows through Anne Arundel County into the bay just south of Annapolis.


Bullheads are studied because they are bottom feeders, living and eating where pollutants accumulate; tend to stay in one area; and metabolize certain carcinogens as humans do.

Richard McIntire, a Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman, said the findings are not likely to prompt a catfish consumption advisory for the South River. Swimming advisories, or advisories on other recreational use, also are not planned, he said.


"This has been a known problem for quite some time," McIntire said.


"If you catch any fish that looks strange," he added, "throw it back."


Drew Koslow, a riverkeeper appointed by the federation, said many recreational fishermen eat catfish, perch and pickerel from the river, which is also used for water-skiing and has several community beaches.


"A lot of kids and adults swim in the river, (and) we don't have the authority to close it to swimming or fishing", Koslow said.


Liver tumors in the Anacostia bullheads were linked to polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, found in urban runoff that contains car exhaust residue, pavement sealants and asphalt particles. In the South River, PAH levels are far lower than in the Anacostia and more South River bullheads were found with skin cancer.


Koslow noted the river is crossed by Route 50 and other roads, so "maybe it's coming from the runoff off the highway — or ski boats."


"We don't have a lot of industry on the river, so we're pushing hard to figure out what's going on and deal with it."


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