Chemical contamination of fish at Kwajalein Atoll “is a public health concern of epic proportion that we cannot take lightly,” Kwajalein Senator David Paul said in advance of this week’s annual RMI-US military consultation in Majuro.
Paul and other RMI officials called for action on the contamination issue at the Joint Committee Meeting (JCM) held at the ICC Wednesday. US officials from the Pacific Command in Hawaii, Kwajalein Commander Col. Michael Larsen and other military and State Department representatives were involved in the meeting with the RMI team led by Foreign Minister John Silk. In addition to Silk and Paul, the RMI delegation included Minister Kalani Kaneko, Senators Alvin Jacklick and Maynard Alfred, Kwajalein Mayor Hirata Kabua, and Chief Secretary Justina Langidrik.
“Aside from public awareness of the problem, we need leaders to work out a response (to the contamination problem),” Paul told the Journal. “We need to bring in experts to address how we move forward.”
Paul said one of the challenges in preventing further potential health damage to local residents in Kwajalein is that islanders may think the “no fishing” warnings relate to “fish poisoning” (ciguatera), which is totally different from the long-term health problems and cancers that can develop from exposure to PCB, lead and other heavy metals.
The US Army “studies confirmed that there were alarming health risks from fish within the lagoon,” Paul said in his statement to the JCM Wednesday. “Fish near the harbor and landfill recorded levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other metals, including lead, which appear to greatly exceed established US regional health guidelines, likely by hundreds of times.”
Paul urged US and RMI action to take a variety of actions, including conducting a comprehensive epidemiology study.
“We have taken some steps to initiate an independent epidemiology study, with capacity assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” he said.
RMI EPA General Manager Moriana Phillip said discussions with IAEA are looking at a scientific evaluation of these hazards not limited to Kwajalein, but including Majuro and other atolls.
Read more about this in the June 10, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.