Oct. 21 2010 12:00 AM

MSU receives federal dollars to educate on potential dangers of fish consumption

Thursday, Oct. 21 — Thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan State University will teach the next generation of health care professionals on the dangers of fish consumption.

The grant will be used to educate students, residents and faculty at MSU’s medical schools. Through the schools, MSU hopes to extend the education to primary care doctors across the state.

The program is part the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $475 million plan aimed at the preservation of the Great Lakes.

The problem with Michigan’s fish has been ongoing. Mercury, for one thing, is a problem throughout the state, said Kenneth Rosenman, chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in MSU’s College of Human Medicine. Mercury has contaminated all of the Great Lakes. Chlorinated hydrocarbons — specifically PCBs and dioxins — are also a threat in many areas.

The cause, Rosenman said, has to do with coal-burning power plants near waterways. Some of these chemicals blow in from Chicago and Milwaukee. Specifically with the chlorinated hydrocarbons, the source can often be traced back to plants and facilities on local waters — such as the Kalamazoo River and Saginaw Bay — which in the past used them for byproduct dumping grounds.

Children and women of childbearing ages are at the highest risk, he said.

“At that age, there’s an increased probability they (women) will have children and the mercury might have an effect on the neurological system of children,” he said. “With the long incubation periods, it’s the young more at risk than the old,” Rosenman said.

Some fish have more chemical accumulations than others. How much a person should eat varies by age and by type of fish.

This latest EPA grant will pay for many education efforts on the problem. MSU medical schools will see additions to their nutrition curriculum. Though there won’t be separate courses on it, this new knowledge will be integrated into other activities. The money will also be used to set up an education website for practicing physicians, and display booths at medical conferences, among other things.

In the past, the EPA has issued fish advisories directly to the people, Rosenman said. However, these efforts have proven ineffective. Other proactive efforts to combat the threat have also been underway. PCBs are banned in the U.S. today, and dioxins were an old byproduct of the manufacturing process, he explained.

The Michigan Department of Community Health also conducts a sampling of water across the state as well. Its website hosts the results by body of water, for anyone curious as to the threat in their area.

The EPA also awarded a grant to the University of Illinois, and in conjunction with faculty there, MSU hopes to eventually educate health care providers across the Great Lakes states about the potential dangers of fish consumption.

But Lansing locals will be happy to know that they can still fish without worry.

“I catch and eat fish out of the Grand River, and I live on the Red Cedar,” Rosenman said. “If I ever caught a fish there, I probably would eat it. As far as I know, there’s nothing particularly special about either, and nothing preventing me from doing so.”