Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Would You Eat Blue Crabs Caught In The Gowanus? The NY State Health Department Recommendation May Surprise You

Above, blue crabs living in the sediment of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.
Below, crabs for sale at a fish store
Would you eat blue crabs that you caught in the Gowanus Canal? Hopefully not, since everyone in the community knows by now that this 1.8 mile Brooklyn industrial waterway is one of the most polluted places in the United States and was declared a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.

Not only do blue crabs in the Gowanus live in the highly toxic sediment at the bottom of the canal, which is tainted by more than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, they are all surrounded by bacteria-ladden water since the City of New York still uses the Gowanus as an open sewer during heavy rainfalls.

released in January 2017 that women over 50 and men over 15 can eat up to 4 meals a month
(six crabs per meal) as long as one does not eat the tomalley, the yellowish-greenish liver and pancreas of the crab because PCBs and other contaminants are concentrated there.
The advice is more restrictive for women under 50 years old and children under 15 years old, "who should not eat any fish from these waters.” 

The advisory on eating fish and crab can be found on page 3 of the Health Assessment:
"Because the Gowanus Canal is a tributary to the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, with no barriers to fish movement, the extensive, restrictive fish advisories for the Upper Bay of New York Harbor apply to the Gowanus Canal.
People who are considering eating fish and crab caught in the canal should follow the DOH consumption advisories for fish (including crabs) taken from the Upper Bay of New York Harbor to reduce their exposures to chemical contaminants. The advisory is available at www.health.ny.gov/fish":

Representatives of the New York State Department of Health came in front of the EPA Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group on May 23, 2017 to update the community on its Gowanus Canal Public Health Assessment.
Members of the CAG were apparently stunned by the recommendation on crab consumption from this EPA Superfund Site for women over 50 and men over 15 and questioned the representatives thoroughly.
CAG members made the point that even if the Gowanus Canal is part of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, the water and sediment is so much more polluted here that applying the fish and crab consumption advisory for the Upper Bay to the Gowanus is just not conscionable.
What do you think? Would you feel safe eating six crabs four times a month from the Gowanus.

As a note of interest, the New York State fish advisories for the Upper Bay of New York Harbor also includes Newtown Creek. See the chart below.

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Anonymous said...

the problem with this NYS State Health Dept is in its very title. It lumps the Gowanus Canal in with the rest of NY Harbor. Yes, the Gowanus Canal is part of the greater NY harbor, but the levels and types of contaminates are unique to the Gowanus. DON'T EAT ANYTHING fromthe Gowanus Canal.

Jim said...

I wouldn't put my foot in the Gowanus canal much less eat anything that lives or grows in it. There's a reason why the canal has the word 'anus' is as part of it's name.

Anonymous said...

Some people fish because it's a source of food.

Jimmy from Brooklyn said...

Does it come with a side order of "crack" cause this is wack!

Cara said...

What is the deal with the "women over 50" designation? If they actually mean women who may become pregnant, they should say that. Not all women under the age of 50 are ticking baby time bombs.

Katia said...

So true, Cara.

Jack Kredell said...

First of all, those are fiddler crabs in the picture claiming to show blue crabs in the Gowanus sediment. If and when you do find some blue crabs to photograph please notify me by email as I will gladly come and eat them. Second of all, you find it unconscionable to follow the scientific advice of the NY State of Health but don't find it unconscionable to pay hyper-inflated rent to live next to a Superfund site?

Anonymous said...

My dad and my father-in-law both swam in the Gownus Can a in the 1920' and 30's. They said it was disgusting then. Imagine now!!!!

Unknown said...

A few thoughts ...

1. Gowanus Dredgers are happy to see the Fiddler Crabs return after the flushing pump reactivation - canoe with us and find them ALIVE!
2. Most NY-NJ shellfish have contamination but it is unlikely that they got it from Gowanus as very little crab food grows on canal bottom
3. The crabs don't stay in one place so crabs caught in Long Island may have spent adolescence in Gowanus

When in Gowanus, eat lobster!