More testing coming for Wylie fish

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comApril 16, 2013 

— As new fish advisories arrive upstream, testing continues to see exactly what’s in the fish from Lake Wylie.

Last week, North Carolina officials released fish consumption advisories on Lake Norman for striped and largemouth bass. Striped bass tested high for polychlorinated biphenyls and there’s a statewide largemouth advisory for high mercury. Also updated was a channel catfish advisory on Mountain Island Lake to include blue catfish, also for PCB content.

Current Lake Wylie fish advisories include a South Carolina one limiting largemouth bass to one meal a week due to PCBs, and a similar one in North Carolina recommending no more than two meals of largemouth per month. The statewide mercury advisory in North Carolina states pregnant or nursing women and children shouldn’t eat any.

The entire South Carolina stretch of the Catawba River has a PCB advisory for largemouth. Downstream of Wylie, Lake Wateree has restrictions on largemouth, blue catfish and striped bass due to PCBs.

When the 2011 largemouth advisory came for Wylie, a South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman said no other species were tested so there wasn’t any way of knowing whether Wylie blue or channel catfish, for instance, also exceeded limits. The department would “go where the data sends us,” he said, for additional testing.

Spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said last week that “very limited” sampling was conducted on Wylie last year “and the lab results are pending.”

“Currently, we are collecting black crappie in the Catawba basin and hope to obtain specimens in Lake Wylie later in the spring,” Evans said. “Other fish species will be collected, if encountered, with the goal of obtaining sufficient data to extend to the entire lake.”

Experts say it isn’t strange that testing would be limited and would focus first on large, predatory fish like largemouth bass where PCB accumulation should be highest. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation conducted tests in the basin several years back that prompted more attention from the states.

Tests can run to $1,000 per sample, limiting widespread testing efforts.

“With the new fish advisory for Lake Norman, there are now fish advisories for PCBs in Lake Norman and all downstream sections of the Catawba River,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins. “Sufficient testing has not been done upstream of Lake Norman to determine whether PCB fish advisories should be issued upstream of Lake Norman.”

The foundation has its own testing planned for Lake James, the northernmost lake in the Catawba chain, later this year and will advocate for continued testing locally. Experts say fish still can be consumed following the advisory guidelines, and that the water itself isn’t unsafe.

Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie are drinking water sources for municipalities throughout the region.

PCBs are chlorine-based, synthetic compounds banned in the 1970s after links to cancer and other medical conditions. A 2009 Environmental Protection Agency study of 500 lakes nationwide found that all of them had PCBs in them still, despite decades of not being commercially produced. Of those lakes, 17 percent exceeded federal water quality limits.

Lake Wateree’s inclusion in that 17 percent, among other factors, prompted addition testing throughout the Catawba basin.

For more on current fish advisories, visit epi.publichealth.nc.gov and scdhec.gov/environment/water/fish.

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