Report: Traces of toxics found in villagers

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Traces of PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals have been found in the blood of residents of five Aleutian and Pribilof villages who rely on subsistence foods, state health officials say.

But the officials say the toxins are in low concentrations that are far outweighed by the nutritional benefits of the traditional foods.

Dr. John Middaugh, the state's chief epidemiologist, said the findings are a cause for concern and further study, but not alarm.

''I think there's a consensus among the broad medical and public health community that the levels we're measuring in people are so low ... as to not pose a clinical or public health problem,'' he said.

Chemical pollutants have long been found in fish, animals and people in industrialized areas. Biologists were surprised over the last decade, however, when they found the contaminants in sea mammals and birds in the remote Aleutians.

The discovery led to a study conducted last spring by the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blood samples were taken from 166 volunteers in five villages -- St. Paul and St. George in the Pribilofs, and Atka, Akutan and Nikolski in the Aleutians. The results were reported to tribal councils this week, and Middaugh presented them at an international science conference in Anchorage on arctic development and pollution.

PCBs were once widely used in electrical equipment and DDT is an insecticide. The use of both substances was banned in the United States years ago, but continues in some other nations. DDT is a carcinogen, and PCBs are suspected of causing cancer.

Mike Brubaker, community services director with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, described the analysis of the five villages as a ''first snapshot.''

''This study sort of opens the book,'' he said. ''It really doesn't resolve anything. That's why our organization, as well as the state, are saying the same thing: We need to take a better look.''

Scientists say DDT, PCBs and other contaminants likely are carried to Alaska in the atmosphere. But many abandoned military sites throughout the state, including the Aleutians, are known to be contaminated with some of the same chemicals, Brubaker pointed out.

''We want to understand better where is the contamination coming from, how is it being carried, how are people being exposed,'' he said.

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