Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2001


Fishing plays an important role in people's lives and contaminant levels in fish are a public health concern. Many states have issued consumption advisories; South Carolina and Georgia have issued them for the Savannah River based on mercury and radionuclide levels. This study examined ethnic differences in risk from mercury exposure among people consuming fish from the Savannah River, based on site-specific consumption patterns and analysis of mercury in fish. Among fish, there were significant interspecies differences in mercury levels, and there were ethnic differences in consumption patterns. Two methods of examining risk are presented: (1) Hazard Index (HI), and (2) estimates of how much and how often people of different body mass can consume different species of fish. Blacks consumed more fish and had higher HIs than Whites. Even at the median consumption, the HI for Blacks exceeded 1.0 for bass and bowfin, and, at the 75th percentile of consumption, the HI exceeded 1.0 for almost all species. At the White male median consumption, noHI exceeded 1, but for the 95th percentile consumer, the HI exceeded 1.0 almost regardless of which species were eaten. Although females consumed about two thirds the quantity of males, HIs exceeded 1 for most Black females and for White females at or above the 75th percentile of consumption. Thus, close to half of the Black fishermen were eating enough Savannah River fish to exceed HI = 1. Caution must be used in evaluating an HI because the RfDs were developed to protect the most vulnerable individuals. The percentage of each fish species tested that exceeded the maximum permitted limits of mercury in fish was also examined. Over 80% of bowfin, 38% of bass, and 21% of pickerel sampled exceeded 0.5 ppm. The risk methodology is applicable anywhere that comparable data can be obtained. The risk estimates are representative for fishermen along the Savannah River, and are not necessarily for the general populations.

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