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Environmental justice: Protecting against contaminated fish

February 12, 2010 |  5:06 pm

PV Shelf 2222
The Environmental Protection Agency honored a collaborative of Southern California community groups and agencies this week for its work to protect people from eating contaminated fish caught off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

In a ceremony Wednesday at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, EPA officials gave its annual Environmental Justice Achievement Award to the dozen community groups, health agencies and environmental groups that make up the Palos Verdes Shelf Fish Contamination Education Collaborative. They include Boat People SOS, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Asian Youth Center, Heal the Bay and St. Anselm's Cross-Cultural Community Center.

Since 2003, the groups have collaborated to make brochures, hold outreach campaigns and educate mostly Chinese American and Vietnamese American anglers about the dangers of eating fish from the Palos Verdes Shelf, an EPA Superfund site.

Fish from the waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula have been a health risk for more than 25 years because the ocean floor there has one of the nation's largest deposits of DDT and PCBs, toxic chemicals that were dumped from factories.

Some anglers, especially those in the immigrant community, were catching fish to supplement their diet without knowing of the health risk, said Francisco Arcaute, spokesman for the EPA's Los Angeles office. But the collaborative has tried to correct that, telling fishermen to steer clear of toxic-prone fish like the white croaker and carefully prepare whatever they catch.

"For years now, this group has gone out of its way to tell people 'Don't fish here, and if you're going to, don't eat the head or the tail and the skin, because the toxins accumulate in the fatty parts of the fish'," Arcaute said.

The EPA gives out its environmental justice award each year to an initiative working to improve the environment for vulnerable communities, often serving poor people of color who lack the resources of other conservation groups.

--Tony Barboza

Photo: The award winners gather on Wednesday at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Credit: Courtesy of Environmental Protection Agency