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May 15, 2013

Study confirms PCBs in Falls Reservoir, Lake Tillery

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 — A study released Monday confirms PCB contamination of fish at three separate testing sites along the Yadkin River, according to Sandy Mort, a public health assessor with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

“Nine fish tissue samples showed levels of PCB contamination that exceeded the PCB action level,” Mort said, adding that the contaminated samples were divided evenly between High Rock Lake, Falls Reservoir and Lake Tillery.

Mort provided a description of the study during a public meeting Monday at Morrow Mountain State Park Lodge. The study,

 which was conducted by NCDHHS Division of Public Health, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (NCDENR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), looked at 104 samples, 45 of which were taken from High Rock Lake, 15 from Falls Reservoir and 44 from Lake Tillery. The samples were divided between several species of bass, catfish, sunfish, crappie and perch.

Of the 104 samples, nine showed levels of PCB contamination that exceeded the PCB action level.

“All of the nine samples were catfish and they were all greater than 18 inches,” Mort said.

She said that while the PCB contamination is concerning, NCDHHS does not plan to issue a fish consumption advisory.

“If we were to issue an advisory for these findings, it would restrict consumption of catfish greater than 18 inches to no more than one time per week,” Mort said.

“But the state already has a fish consumption advisory in place for fish high in mercury. This advisory is more restrictive and more encompassing than one we could issue for the PCBs.”

Currently there is a statewide fish consumption advisory that states women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children younger than 15 should not eat fish that are high in mercury, while all other individuals should limit their consumption to no more than one meal per week. Several of the species of fish that were tested in this study are included on the high mercury list, including catfish and large mouth bass. For a complete listing of what fish are high in mercury, visit http://epi.publichealth. nc.gov/oee/mercury/safefish.html.

Mort also said the study looked at 21 surface sediment samples taken in 2011 from upper High Rock Lake through the south side of Lake Tillery near the Norwood dam.  

The goal of analyzing these samples was to identify if there was a potential hazard for accidental ingestion or direct skin contact. Of the 21 samples, two returned results positive for PCB contamination. The first was near the Norwood dam along the east side of the river. The second location, which had a higher PCB concentration, was in a cove north of Falls dam near an active boat ramp.

“We evaluated the PCB concentration in the cove for possible accidental exposure and also the direct skin contact. Based on that analysis, those levels were not high enough to indicate a potential for adverse health effects,” Mort said.

A follow-up sampling was taken in 2012 from the location with the highest sediment PCB concentration. Ten new samples were collected, all of which did not test positive for PCB contamination.

To submit story ideas, contact Tiffany Thompson at  (704) 982-2121 ext. 24.

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