Hazards Of Eating NYC Fish

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A sign along the Hudson River bears the warning.

Photo by: Mark Anthony Thomas

A sign along the Hudson River bears the warning.

Cheap, fresh and otherwise appealing as they may seem, fish caught in the waters in and around New York City should not be eaten without a dose of worry. Those in need of a reminder can look no farther than the hundreds of signs in local parks, sponsored by local government agencies, trumpeting the dangers of fish consumption.

“Pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and children under 15 years old should not eat fish or eels caught in these waters,” a typical sign reads. “Others should limit their consumption of these fish and eels. Some fish caught in New York City waters may be harmful to eat.”

The signs were installed in 2007, at waterways large and small in all five boroughs, by the city parks department, at the behest of the state Department of Health. Many were apparently removed, a parks spokesman said, so the department manufactured 250 more and reinstalled them last summer.

The most significant contaminants in Hudson River waters, health department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said, are PCBs. The state’s fishing advisories do not identify which pollutants are the greatest danger in which waterways, but other substances that have been found in fish and shellfish locally include mercury, cadmium, various insecticides, and dioxins and furans – which can come from incinerator smoke and car exhaust.

In general, the state recommends eating no more than one half-pound meal per week from the Hudson River Estuary, the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Arthur Kill, Kill Van Kull, Newark Bay, Raritan Bay west of Wolfe’s Pond Park, the Harlem River, and the East River to the Throgs Neck Bridge. Pregnant women and children should eat no fish from these waters at all, Hammond said, as should women of childbearing age, since some of the pollutants, including PCBs, can stay in the body for a long time.

Besides the signs, the health department distributes pamphlets explaining its advisories with fishing licenses, and prints the advisories on its web site. Many people can heed the warnings and still eat city fish occasionally, Hammond said.

“It’s just a way to make anglers aware that there are contaminants in fish, and that they can be passed on,” he said. “We’re not saying that they shouldn’t eat it at all. We’re just giving them guidelines on how much consumption.”