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HEALTH CONSULTATION


HUDSON RIVER PCBS
GLEN FALLS, WARREN COUNTY, NEW YORK


SURVEY METHODS

The 1996 survey used the same questionnaire used by Clearwater (Barclay, 1993) except for two modifications (see Appendix B for a copy of the 1996 survey instrument). A question in the 1991-92 survey about how fish were prepared for eating was deleted, and a question was added asking whether the angler had a fishing license. In the 1996 survey, interviewers identified, counted, and measured the total length of each fish being kept by anglers. In the 1991-92 survey, the species and number of fish caught were reported, but not their sizes or whether they were kept.

In 1996, an interviewer was assigned to each of the three study areas. During the course of the survey two different individuals conducted interviews in Areas 1 and 2. The interviews were conducted from early June until the end of October. Efforts were made to interview anglers on weekdays as well as weekends and at various times of the day. In 1991-92, 14 interviewers were employed to question anglers and similar efforts were made to interview anglers at different times of the week and day.

In the 1991-92 survey, the interviewers visited 20 different sites, but six of the sites were south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, so only 14 sites in Areas 1-3 were visited. During the course of the survey in 1996, interviewers visited the same 14 sites and an additional 18 sites.

Results

In both surveys, several factors may have influenced whether the results represent anglers on the river. Ideally, anglers would have been surveyed randomly. However, the interviewing effort could not be truly randomized for date, day-of-week or time-of-day as the interviewers were part-time employees and data which would permit designing a rigorous random sampling plan were not available. Additionally, in 1996, the surveys did not get underway until June, and therefore, anglers who were fishing for American shad or striped bass in April and May, when these fish are most available in the river, were not surveyed. Interviewers were not available for interviewing in April and May, 1997 to make up for missing these months in 1996. In addition, in both surveys, only a few boat anglers were interviewed. Green and Jackson (1991) found that about half of the angler fishing effort in the Hudson River between Stuyvesant and Kingston is from boaters. Boat anglers were found to target certain species to a greater extent than shore anglers. Peterson (1998) assessed the striped bass fishery in April through June 1997 and found that 71% of angling effort and 84% of the striped bass catch was from boat anglers. Thus, the results of these efforts do not adequately represent boat anglers, and may not accurately represent shoreline anglers.

In 1996, fewer interviews were conducted in June than in other months and most (52%) were conducted in August and September. During the 1991-92 survey, about half of interviews occurred in June and July and about 18% were conducted in May. About half of the interviews occurred on weekends in both studies. In 1996, most (51%) were conducted in the afternoon or evening (33%) and fewer (16%) were conducted in the morning. In the 1991-92 survey, the interviews were evenly distributed among morning, afternoon and evening. As noted above, during both surveys, the distribution of interviews by date, day and time may have been influenced by the interviewers availability rather than when anglers were actually fishing. Table C-1 summarizes these data (Appendix C).

In 1996, 38 different fishing locations were visited, 8 locations in Area 1, 9 locations in Area 2 and 21 locations in Area 3. A total of 294 interviews were completed, with almost half (48%) of the interviews being conducted in Area 3 (Table C-2). The other interviews were evenly divided among Areas 1 and 2. In 1991-92, 323 anglers were interviewed, but at the 14 sites in Areas 1, 2, and 3 (1 in Area 1, 3 in Area 2 and 10 in Area 3), 166 questionnaires were completed. The interviews were more evenly distributed among the areas than in the 1996 survey (56 in Area 1, 50 in Area 2 and 60 in Area 3).

Within each of the three areas, the 1996 survey locations were more broadly distributed than in the 1991-92 survey (Table C-2). For example, in the 1991-92 survey, almost all (82%) of the interviews in Area 1 were from the Mechanicville to Stillwater portion and the remaining 18% were from the Thompson Island Pool. No interviews were conducted near Catskill (Area 2) or in Haverstraw Bay (Area 3). In 1996, 92 interviews (31% of all interviews) were conducted in portions of the river where no anglers were interviewed in 1991-92.

Demographics

Respondents to this survey and to the 1991-92 survey in 1991-92 had a similar distribution of age, gender, race and income (Table C-3). The majority of anglers were male in both surveys (84-89%), but women were more common in the 1996 survey (13%) than in the 1991-92 survey (8%). Most anglers were Caucasian (68-69%). More African-Americans were interviewed in the 1991-92 survey (20%) than in this survey (12%), but in this survey a greater proportion of the anglers were Hispanic (13% versus 10%). Asian, Amerindian and East Indian anglers represented only 2-5% of the anglers in each survey. A large proportion (13-26%) of anglers did not provide their income bracket, but of those who did respond, almost half had annual incomes less than $30,000 and about 10% reported incomes of $50,000 or more. In 1996, about 41% of respondents from Area 3 declined to provide income information, considerably more than in the other areas (5% and 20%) and than in 1991-92 (10-16% for each of the three areas). In both surveys, about half of anglers reported living in households of 2 or 3 people. Household sizes ranged from 1 to 12. The distribution of genders, race and income were significantly different between the two surveys (p<0.05 by X2).

These demographic characteristics differ somewhat from respondents to a statewide mail survey of licensed anglers (NYS DEC, 1997). The statewide survey focused on fishing experiences of licensed anglers during the calendar year 1996 and evaluated 8760 completed questionnaires. Upstream of Troy, the statewide data included anglers fishing in the Hudson upstream of Hudson Falls, including very different fish habitat and fisheries. Therefore, the data are not appropriate to compare with Area 1 anglers from this survey. Of the 8760 respondents, 169 reported fishing in the Hudson River downstream of Troy. Although the age and income categories differed between the two Hudson River surveys, compared to the statewide survey, both of these surveys found

  • a somewhat greater proportion of anglers younger than 25 years and older than 50 years,
  • a much greater proportion of African-American and Hispanic anglers,
  • a much greater proportion of family incomes less than $30,000 and
  • a larger proportion of women.

Awareness and Understanding of the Advisories

Several questions on these surveys (Questions 20, 28, 29, 31a and 31b) were designed to show how knowledgeable anglers were about fish contamination and water pollution prior to asking whether the angler knew of "official health warnings" (Question 32). If respondents were aware of the advisories, they were asked how they learned about the advisories (Question 34) and whether and how they had changed their fishing or eating habits in response to learning of the advisories (Questions 37 and 38).

Overall, about half of anglers said they knew of health warnings (51% in 1991-92 and 49% in 1996, see Table C-4). In 1991-92, awareness of the health advisories did not differ among the areas, with 55% of respondents in Area 1 and 3 reporting that they knew of the health warnings and only 42% of anglers in Area 2 saying so. In 1996, the differences were more dramatic, ranging from 75% of anglers in Area 1 aware of the health warnings to only 31% of anglers in Area 3. About 58% of anglers in Area 2 were aware of the health warnings. Other interesting patterns include:

  1. License-holders were much better informed than unlicensed anglers. About 73% of anglers with a fishing license were aware of the health advisories and only 18% of unlicensed anglers knew about them.
  2. In 1996, ethnic minorities were less informed than whites (13-22% compared to 63%). In the earlier survey, awareness of the advisories was more similar between minorities and whites (43-67% for minorities and 50% for whites). However, the observations for 1991-92 are based on only 34 minority responses compared to 90 minority responses in 1996.
  3. In both surveys, men were more aware that the health advisories exist than women (53-54% for men versus 18-27% for women).
  4. In general, low-income respondents (less than $10,000 annual income) were less aware of the health advisories than the others (21-34% compared to 49-68%).
  5. Age did not appear to influence awareness, except that in the 1991-92 survey only 17% of respondents less than 24 years old were aware of the health advisories. In 1996, 41% of this group were aware of the health advisories. For the other age groups, 40-72% of respondents were aware of the health advisories in both surveys.

The principal mechanism for informing New York anglers about health advisories for sportfish has been through the regulations guide provided to each licensed angler in the state. The 1991-92 survey did not ask whether the angler had a fishing license. In 1996, somewhat more than half (58%) of the anglers asked said that they had a license. However, this percentage varied considerably by area of the Hudson River with 86% of anglers in region 1 (where a license is required for anglers 16 years and older) saying they had a license. In Area 3, only 32% of anglers had licenses. For some people interviewed in Area 3, the concept of a fishing license was not understood.

In both surveys, the greatest proportion of respondents (37% in 1991-92 and 44% in 1996) became aware of the health advisories by reading them in the regulations guide distributed with fishing licenses (Table C-5). In 1991-92, media (35%) and word of mouth (24%) were the only other important sources of information. Media was the primary source of information for the majority of respondents (51%) in Area 3, and the regulations guide was more important in Areas 1 and 2. In 1996, media, posters (signs) and word of mouth were the source of awareness for 14-18% of respondents, but the regulations guide was the most important. In Area 1, signs were the second most important source of awareness of health advisories. Even in Area 2, where no signs have been posted, 16% of anglers reported that they became aware of health advisories from postings.

Three slightly different questions asked about potential health risks from eating fish. Question 20 asked if any fish in the immediate area of where the person was fishing were "not safe to eat". Question 28 asked if eating fish "poses a serious risk", "a slight risk" or "no risk"; and Question 31b asked "do you believe that eating fish caught at this site would pose a risk to your health?" Two other related questions asked anglers whether they thought the water was polluted (Question 29) or the fish contaminated (Question 31a) where they were fishing.

If one looks at the responses of individuals who were consistent in their response to all five of these questions (i.e. answered "yes" to Questions 20, 31a and 31b and thought eating fish posed at least a slight risk and the water was at least slightly polluted), almost half (42%) of respondents responded affirmatively and only 4% consistently denied . pollution, fish contamination and health risks (Table C-6). In 1991-92, the responses were quite similar with 40% responding affirmatively and only 2% consistently denying any problem or concern. However, in 1996, the responses differed considerably among the areas. About 76% of respondents in Area 1 were consistent in perceiving these concerns, while many fewer in Area 2 (46%) and Area 3 (22%) thought so. No one in Areas 1 or 2 consistently denied any problem or concern, but in Area 3 almost 9% of the respondents were consistently unconcerned. In the 1991-92 survey, the responses did not differ much by area, ranging from 33% to 52% for positive responses in each area and 2 to 4% for negative responses in each area.

In both surveys, about half of the individuals who said they were aware of the health advisories also consistently responded in the affirmative on these five questions and no one aware of the health advisories consistently denied any problem or concern. Broadly speaking, in both surveys, few black and Hispanic respondents (10-28%) consistently responded that there was a concern and less than 10% consistently denied any problem or concern. Income and age did not appear to influence perceptions of health risk or river pollution in any consistent way.

A logistic regression analysis was performed to evaluate whether these and other demographic factors were significantly associated with responses to these five questions. The preliminary assessment suggests that, at the 95% confidence level,

  • anglers who were older than 45 years had less knowledge of pollution, fish contamination and health risk issues than those who were younger,
  • respondents in Area 2 and 3 had less knowledge of these concerns than those in Area 1 and
  • anglers who were aware of the advisories were more likely to consistently respond affirmatively to the five questions.

This analysis suggests that gender, race, income and possession of a fishing license were not significant factors in an anglers response to the five questions about pollution and health risks. Differences between surveys are probably the result of differences in demographic characteristics between the two surveys.

Although the percentages of responses were not exactly the same for the individual questions, the patterns described above were generally the same for responses to each of the five questions separately as for the combined questions.

What are Hudson River Anglers Catching?

Anglers were also asked to identify what type of fish they were trying to catch (Question 3) and what fish they had caught (Question 5). Many anglers did not know the identity of the fish that they were catching and in some cases identifying the species referred to was difficult. In some instances, names could not be made more specific than "catfish", which can mean white catfish, channel catfish or brown or yellow bullhead. Others like "bass" could refer to largemouth or smallmouth bass or striped bass. When anglers had kept fish, the interviewers recorded the species, number and length of each fish.

Slightly more than half of all anglers surveyed (58% in 1991-92 and 53% in 1996) reported catching fish (Table C-7). In 1991-92, respondents in Area 1 were somewhat more successful than those from Area 2 & 3 (66% compared to 52% and 57%). But in 1996, Area 3 anglers were the most successful (70% compared to 32% of Area 1 anglers and 42% of Area 2 anglers). In the 1991-92 survey, the fish kept by anglers were not reported separately from those said to be caught. In 1996, only 30% of anglers had fish when interviewed. More than three-quarters (76%) of these anglers were fishing in Area 3 where almost half (47%) of anglers there had kept fish. In Area 1, where keeping fish is not permitted, 14 anglers (20% of those interviewed in this area) had fish when they were interviewed. All but four of the anglers had only one fish and the four only had two fish. Each angler said he was going to return the fish to the river, but the interviewer did not check to see that the fish were returned. Most of the fish were largemouth or smallmouth bass or bluegill. The blue gill was only 4 inches long, but most of the bass exceeded 12 inches, so it seems likely that at least some of these fish were eaten.

In the two surveys, 25 species of fish were reported to be caught in the three areas combined (Table C-8). About half of the total number of fish caught were white perch, blue crab or striped bass, and only 10 species account for almost 90% of the numbers caught. In 1996, anglers had kept 17 different species (Table C-9). The greatest number of anglers (39 or 45% of anglers who kept fish) had kept white perch. Striped bass, American eel, white catfish, bluefish and smallmouth bass were kept by between 10 and 17 anglers each (12-20% of anglers who kept fish). The total weights of each fish were estimated from published regressions based on length (Table C-10). The weights of all the fish kept by anglers were summed for each species and area (Table C-9). Overall, white perch was the most important species (comprising 22% of the catch by weight), followed closely by white catfish (16%) and striped bass (14%). Carp (12%), largemouth and smallmouth bass (7% each), bluefish (7%) and American eel (6%) were also a somewhat important contributors to the overall catch which was kept by anglers. Striped bass are probably more important than represented by this survey, because interviews were not conducted in April and May when the striped bass fishery is very active.

What Are Hudson River Anglers Doing with the Fish They Catch?

Anglers identified up to three reasons why they were fishing. In 1996, most anglers (91%) said their primary reason for fishing was some form of "recreation", and only a small proportion (6%) of anglers listed fishing for food as the primary reason that they were fishing (Table C-11). All of the anglers fishing for food were actually fishing in Area 3, where they comprised 12% of anglers. Less than one quarter (23%) of all anglers included food among the reasons for fishing, but again, all of these anglers were in Area 3. Thus, almost half (47%) of anglers in Area 3 said that food was one of the reasons that they were fishing, but no one in Areas 1 and 2 included food as a reason for fishing. In 1991-92, the overall responses were similar; 7% of anglers listed fishing for food as the primary reason that they were fishing. Some of these anglers were from Areas 1 and 2 (1% of all respondents). Only 16% included food among the reasons for fishing. Again, a greater proportion of anglers in Area 3 included fishing for food as a reason for fishing.

In 1996, most anglers (93%) said they sometimes or often returned fish to the river (Table C-12). About one-third of anglers (36%) reported sometimes or often eating fish they caught from the Hudson. Some of these anglers were from Area 2 (7, 10% of respondents in Area 2), but everyone in Area 1 responded that they never ate fish they caught from the river. Almost one in four anglers (23%) sometimes or often gave away the fish they caught, and about 35% of anglers at least rarely gave away fish. Some of these anglers were fishing in Area 2, but everyone in Area 1 said they never gave fish away. A very few (two individuals, less than 1%) reported sometimes or often selling fish, and four others (1%) said they gave fish away rarely. A few individuals (four, 1%) in Area 3 did not respond when asked if they sold fish. About 30% of anglers reported using the fish they caught for bait at least rarely. All of these anglers were in Areas 2 and 3. Very few anglers said they used the fish they caught for fertilizer (5, 2%) or threw them in the trash (9, 3%) sometimes or rarely.

In 1991-92, the pattern of responses was similar, but a greater proportion of anglers said they ate, gave away or sold the fish they caught. A greater proportion of these individuals were fishing in Areas 1 and 2. All but one individual (99%) said they often or sometimes returned fish to the river. About 30% of anglers said they often or sometimes ate the fish they caught, and many were fishing in Area 1. About 40% of anglers responded that they sometimes or often gave fish away, and a few (7, 5%) said they sold fish at least rarely. Some of the anglers who said they gave fish away were fishing in Area 1. Another 12 individuals (7%) provided no response when asked if they sold fish and half of these individuals were fishing in Area 1.

In both surveys, women where less apt to eat fish from the Hudson than all anglers. In 1996, 10 women of the 37 surveyed (27%) said they ate fish from the river at least rarely. In 1991-92, two of the eleven women surveyed (18%) ate fish. In 1996, 45% of all anglers surveyed in 1996 and 40% of all anglers surveyed in 1991-92 reported eating fish from the river.

How Often Are Hudson River Anglers Eating the Fish They Catch?

The 133 anglers (45% of those surveyed) who said they ate fish at least rarely were asked how frequently they had eaten fish or crabs from the Hudson River during the last week (i.e. in the last 7 days) and last month (i.e. in the last 30 days). More than half (57%) had not eaten Hudson River fish or crabs in the last week and about a quarter (26%) had not eaten fish in the last month. About half of anglers (i.e. the median angler) who ate fish from the Hudson ate 2 meals in the previous month. Ninety-five percent of anglers reported eating 3 meals in the past week or less and 12 meals in the past month or less. Four individuals (3% of anglers who reported eating fish) said they had eaten 20 meals in the previous month.

In 1991-92, 66 anglers (40% of those surveyed) said they ate fish or crabs from the Hudson River at least rarely. In the last week, more than half (65%) had not eaten fish from the Hudson in the past week and about half (51%) had not eaten fish or crabs in the last month. Thus, the median angler ate less than one meal in the past month from the river. Ninety-five percent of anglers reported eating 3 meals in the past week or less and 10 meals in the past month or less. One individual said he had eaten 30 meals in the past month of fish or crabs from the river.

Are Others at Risk from Eating Hudson River Fish?

Some anglers share fish they catch with relatives, give them away to others or sell their catch. In both surveys, about two thirds of anglers who ate their fish (68% in 1996 and 64% in 1991-92) also shared them with relatives. About half of all anglers (45% in 1996 and 49% in 1991-92) said they gave fish away to others at least rarely. Most anglers (92% in 1996 and 85% in 1991-92) thought that the fish were eaten. As noted above, very few anglers acknowledged selling fish (2% in 1996 and 5% in 1991-92) or might have sold fish, assuming that those who did not respond probably sold fish at least rarely (another 1% in 1996 and 7% in 1991-92). Many of the recipients (relatives and those who were given fish) were women and children who are advised to eat no fish from this part of the river.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION AND EXPOSURE ASSESSMENT

Since 1976, NYS DEC has monitored PCB levels in fish from the Hudson River and marine waters, including the New York City Harbor (Skinner et al. 1996, Sloan et al. 1984, Sloan and Horn 1986, Sloan and Armstrong 1988, Sloan, Stang and O'Connell 1988, Sloan et al. 1988, Sloan and Hattala 1991, Sloan 1994, Sloan et al. 1995). In general, PCB levels in fish were quite elevated when they were first measured. With control of active discharges in the late 1970's, fish PCB levels declined precipitously for several years and continued a very slow decline until they increased dramatically in response to new discharges of PCBs from the General Electric facility at Hudson Falls which were discovered in late 1991. Since 1993, fish PCB levels have generally begun to diminish, but PCB levels remain quite elevated (Table C-13). From 1992 to 1996 in Area 1, average PCB levels have ranged from about 6 to 61 milligrams per kilogram wet-weight or parts per million (ppm), depending on species. Largemouth and smallmouth bass comprised 79% by weight of the fish that were kept and averaged 15 and 8 ppm, respectively. In Areas 2 and 3, average PCB levels in fish range from less than 1 ppm to about 9 ppm. In Area 2, largemouth and smallmouth bass comprised 81% by weight of the fish that were kept and averaged 4.9 and 7.6 ppm, respectively. In Area 3, the catch was more varied. The most important six species represent 78% by weight of the fish that were kept: white perch (3.9 ppm), white catfish (8 ppm), striped bass (2.2 ppm) carp (no PCB data), largemouth and small mouth bass (no PCB data).

Because PCB data for some important species were lacking and the representativeness of this sample of anglers can be questioned, exposure was not quantitatively calculated. However, the available data clearly indicates that some anglers and others who eat fish from the Hudson River are being exposed to levels of PCBs that are a health concern and are at risk of adverse health effects.

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