DANGER: PCBs AT WORK
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is lowering the permissible levels of poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from five to two parts per million in fish sent to market. PCBs are chemical cousins of DDT and are used for their heat-resistant properties in a variety of products, notably electrical transformers and capacitors. They have caused cancer in laboratory rats, raised havoc with the reproduction of monkeys and caused bone deformities and stillbirths in humans. The Federal Government banned their manufacture last January, but because of the junking of old products, vaporization and leaks, PCBs are likely to persist in the environment—and accumulate in fish—into the next century.
The FDA ruling applies only to fish in interstate commerce, but the states are expected to follow Washington's lead. The new levels could affect some saltwater species, including striped bass, bluefish and tuna taken off Long Island. Freshwater fisheries could be even harder hit. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency has turned up astronomical levels of PCBs in whole fish, e.g., 140 parts per million for Lake Hartwell, S.C.; 89.3 ppm for Choccolocco Creek, Ala. and 47.2 ppm for Acushnet River Reservoir, Mass. The study shows that 53% of the fish sampled from 46 selected watersheds contained at least five ppm and that 86% contained more than two ppm. Fish with more than two ppm abounded in the Kennebec River in Maine; the Red River of the North at Halstad, Minn.; the Wabash in Indiana; and the Colorado River in Blythe, Calif.
EPA scientists have found a host of other chemicals in freshwater catches: many fish are, in essence, miniature Love Canals. Among the chemicals are hexachlorobenzene, a fungicide recently shown to cause cancer in hamsters, and pentachlorophenol, a highly toxic wood preservative. The researchers also report widespread contamination from hydrocarbon mixtures similar to fuel and crankcase oils. Concentrations were so high they could simply be weighed instead of measured on a parts-per-million scale. Even more worrisome is the presence of dioxins and furans, which are the most poisonous known synthetic substances. In 1976 an explosion at a chemical plant so severely contaminated the town of Seveso, Italy with dioxins that certain neighborhoods may be uninhabitable for the next 50 years. Researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently found dioxins in a composite sample of carp and smallmouth bass from the Tittabawassee River in Michigan and furans in largemouth bass from the Hudson. The discovery introduces a new element of concern in the battle against chemical poisoning of the environment.
Because it will result in the loss offish, the new ruling on PCBs is, by itself, likely to cast a pall over both sport and commercial fishermen. The sanest, if not necessarily quickest, way to ease their distress would be to begin purging the environment of PCBs. Although little can be done about PCBs that have become diffused in waterways, many highly concentrated "hot spots" can be dredged. Steps also can be taken to ensure the phasing out of products—transformers on railroad cars, for example—before they leak PCBs into the environment.
The reduction of permissible levels even to two parts per million may be inadequate. Dr. Joseph Highland, chairman of the Toxic Chemicals Program of the Environmental Defense Fund, says, "Two parts per million was selected solely on the grounds of avoiding greater economic impact." Dr. Ian C. T. Nisbet, an ecologist who assessed PCB hazards for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says, "To assure safety, you have to go lower than two. Unless the limit is lowered to one-tenth of a part per million, pregnant women should be advised not to eat fish at all."
Bob Arum was in South Africa last week, trying to arrange a late-summer bout between John Tate and Gerrie Coetzee for the World Boxing Association title vacated by Muhammad Ali. Over the phone to the New York Daily News' Dick Young, Arum issued a challenge to rival promoter Don King, who is plotting a World Boxing Council title match between champion Larry Holmes and Earnie Shavers. Arum proposed that the winners of the two fights meet for a consolidated championship, with all profits going to Arum if his man won, to King if his man did. Young then called King, who accepted the challenge.
If King had stopped there, it would have been a stunning development—boxing's No. 1 Hatfield and the sport's No. 1 McCoy agreeing on a sensible solution to the muddled heavyweight situation. But King didn't stop there. He told Young that while it was a "pleasure" to accept Arum's offer, he might foil his rival by shooting Shavers in to fight Tate and then, if Shavers won, unifying the titles by matching him against Holmes. Of course, that would leave Coetzee out in the cold but, you see, no definite date had been set for a Holmes-Shavers fight and furthermore...
Aw, forget it.