Health officials warn of tainted fish in Lake Norman

Health officials warn of tainted fish in Lake Norman


by BORA KIM / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @BoraKimWCNC

Posted on April 9, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 10 at 10:05 PM

LAKE NORMAN, N.C. -- North Carolina health officials Tuesday issued the first fish-consumption advisory for Lake Norman, warning the public of striped bass tainted by chemicals known as PCBs.

Striper fishing is a popular sport on Lake Norman, the state’s largest manmade body of water. Most fishermen don’t eat the fish, but some do.

The N.C. Division of Public Health included in its advisory largemouth bass, which have been found to be contaminated by potentially toxic mercury in waters statewide.

The state recommends that pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant, and children under 15 not eat striped bass or largemouth bass caught in Lake Norman. Other people should eat no more than two meals a month of bass and one meal a week of striped bass.

"I came to enjoy the water, look around, and a little rest and relaxation," said Steve Parks, who lives in Dallas.

Parks and his co-workers spent Wednesday afternoon soaking in the sun at Mountain Island Lake in Gaston County.  They were not surprised to learn of the warning because a similar advisory was issued last year.

"Around here we fish, swim, boat, go tubing, the whole nine yards and nothing ever happens to my kids," said Parks.

Fishing is a favorite family activity for Parks and his family.  He is among some who wonder if industrial waste from plants nearby are causing elevated levels.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were once widely-used chemicals that are now found in the nation’s waterways. They can hurt the neurological development of children, the reproductive and immune systems, and may cause cancer.

The chemicals can also put at risk brain development in the unborn babies of pregnant women who eat contaminated fish.

In addition to the Lake Norman advisory, public health officials updated an existing fish consumption advisory for Mountain Island Lake. A PCB advisory for channel catfish, released in January 2011, now includes blue catfish.

Doug Hawkins said he is bothered my the warning and it will change the way he fishes.

"I like to eat the fish that I catch because I'm not doing it just for sport," he said.

For Mike Hudson, he said he will just have to release back into the water the types of bass on the list this year.

"As far as swimming and boating and everything, that's no problem.  But as far as eating the fish, no, I wouldn't," he said.

Parks said he and his buddies were planning a big fish fry and despite the warning, plans will go forward.  He said he will probably eat what he catches, but like anything, he will eat the "tainted fish" in moderation.

"I agree, too much of anything is bad for you," Parks said.

The health division recommends that no one eat channel catfish from Mountain Island. Pregnant or nursing women and children should not eat blue catfish or largemouth bass, due to mercury contamination. Others should not eat more than two meals a month of the bass or more than one meal a month of blue catfish.

The Charlotte Observer contributed to this article.