FORT EDWARD -- Several recent studies suggest the negative health effects of PCBs could be worse and more widespread than previously believed, with connections being drawn in recent studies to everything from changes in bird behavior to child development.
The chemicals, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls, are the target of a multiyear dredging project that is ongoing in the Hudson River.
PCBs are a suspected carcinogen and reproductive toxin, but findings from a collection of studies compiled by Peter deFur, a technical adviser on the dredging project, suggest the chemicals affect much more.
“The new information suggests worse health risks from PCBs,” deFur said.
DeFur, as a technical adviser for the dredging project, provides independent data. He presented key findings from recent studies at the dredging project’s community advisory group meeting on Thursday as part of an update on the toxicity of PCBs.
Connections have been drawn between PCB exposure and Parkinson’s disease, and the chemicals accumulate in greater levels in children who live near highly contaminated PCB sites than was initially expected, and they can alter bird behavior, deFur said.
A recently released study compared the songs of birds from a stretch of the PCB-contaminated Hudson River to birds from an uncontaminated area in the Adirondacks. Blood samples confirmed the presence of PCBs in the birds, which were demonstrating different song patterns.
DeFur referenced studies on human health in the New Bedford, Mass., area, near another PCB Superfund site, where greater levels of PCBs than expected have been found in younger children, which has been linked to lower IQs and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said.
The accumulation of PCBs in breast milk has risen over the years in the general population and among women living close to Superfund sites, deFur said.
Another study, of minks who were fed fish from the Hudson and Housatonic rivers, drew connections to the consumption and impaired reproduction and development, consistent with previous reports, deFur said.
PCBs concentrate in the fatty tissues of fish, which make them unsafe to consume. The Environmental Protection Agency tests fish tissue for PCB levels because of the potential risk posed to humans who eat them.
Representatives from the state Department of Health updated the group Thursday about outreach efforts to educate people about the fishing advisories in the Hudson River and the potential health risks associated with eating fish from the river. There’s been more of a push in the past year to target people at county fairs and other events, said Regina Keenan of the state Department of Health.
There is a “do not eat” health advisory for children aged 15 and under and women of childbearing age throughout the Hudson River Superfund site, and a catch-and-release only area from Bakers Falls in Kingsbury to the Troy Dam.
General Electric Co. is in the midst of a multiyear dredging project in the Hudson related to its dumping of PCBs into the river in the 1970s, before their harmful effects were known. The project is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the community advisory group is a watchdog group that meets quarterly.