Reef fish throughout the Kwajalein lagoon are contaminated with toxic pollutants which sharply increase risks of cancer, learning disabilities and other health impacts on consumers, said the RMI EPA this week.
Two key US Army draft reports presented to RMI late last year conclude that because Marshallese eat the “whole of fish,” and eat a lot of fish, human health risks for Marshallese in Kwajalein dramatically exceed US regional safety standards — particularly for fish found in the USAKA harbor and near the base landfill, which are popular fishing spots. Health risks for fish caught in these locations may exceed US standards by hundreds of times. Both the draft Army reports and RMI EPA have declared the level of health risks to Marshallese to be “unacceptable,” said RMI EPA General Manager Moriana Phillip.
US Army scientists also tested fish from the wider mid-atoll corridor, including near the islands of Meck, Illigeni, Ellep and Jerak, and found high levels of pollution exceeding US safety standards, but not nearly at the levels near the lagoon and harbor. Some level of pollution at USAKA may have occurred for decades. A recent fish tissue study near Ebeye has not yet been published. USAKA has posted signage in Marshallese for several years warning against fishing. The US Army findings recommend the signage be improved, among other steps.
The US Army reports that risks to Americans are lower because they eat much less fish than Marshallese, and generally only fillets — not bones and the head, where hazardous chemicals can be concentrated. But when applied to Marshallese, who eat a lot of fish, health risks are multiplied and greatly exceed US safety standards. The report’s methodology was revised at RMI EPA’s urging in 2012.
Phillip emphasized that these findings are only on the basis of what has been observed in fish. “We don’t yet know if — or to what extent — these risks are actually occurring in Marshallese at Kwajalein. This is only a prediction based on the studies so far,” she said.
Phillip also emphasized that “these studies do not indicate people will necessarily get cancer or have other impacts, but that the likelihood is much higher than normal. At the same time, these studies are a very grave concern and the level of risk is clearly unacceptable. A wider RMI government response is needed.”
Read more about this in the November 6, 2015 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.