Fish at Kwaj dangerous to eat

An aerial view of Kwajalein Island, headquarters of the US Army Garrison — Kwajalein Atoll. Reef fish in various areas of this island have been heavily contaminated by arsenic and PCBs from the Army’s landfill and harbor industrial vessel operations. Photo: Giff Johnson.


“Cancer risk and non-cancer hazard are unacceptable for adult and child Marshallese residents under numerous evaluated fish consumption scenarios,” says a new 276-page report on the contamination of reef fish at Kwajalein and nearby islands of the US Army Garrison — Kwajalein Atoll.

The latest US Army report confirms that fish in many locations on Kwajalein Island and nearby islands on the west side of the atoll contain dangerous levels of arsenic and PCBs, all seriously toxic chemicals. The contamination is the result mainly of waste from industrial vessel operations in the port and leaching from the Kwajalein landfill that have contaminated reef fish in the area with toxic materials.

The Draft Update to the Kwajalein Atoll Fish Consumption Risk Assessment of 2016 was prepared by the US Army Public Health center in Maryland and released at the end of last week with public meetings scheduled on Ebeye this week to discuss the findings.

The Army report also points out that one of the goals of the study was to come up with an “advisory” about safe levels of fish consumption. But, said the report, “Based on the subsistence fishermen exposure assumptions, there is no level or type of fish consumption from the subject study areas that is without risk for Marshallese people.” However, the same warning didn’t apply to American adults because they do not consume all parts of reef fish as Marshallese fish eaters do.

The report concluded that, “Reef fish consumption poses potentially unacceptable cancer risks to Marshallese adults and children who draw the majority of their reef fish from industrial (Kwajalein Harbor and Kwajalein landfill) and recreational areas (North Point, Ski Platform, American/Japanese pools) on Kwajalein Islet. Consumption of reef fish from Enubuj and Ennylabegan (islands) poses similar health concerns. Non-cancer hazard is also unacceptable for Marshallese adults at all of these areas.”

The Army report cautioned that the risk identified did not mean people eating fish from the contaminated areas will get cancer. “Rather, these calculations reflect an increased likelihood of cancer over baseline estimates,” the report said.

Read more about this in the July 19, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.