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Last Edited: 5/12/2004

Delta Fish Project Needs Assessment Final Report
Written: 01/01/04

Executive Summary

Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, bioaccumulates in fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and tributaries watershed (hereafter referred to as the Delta watershed) at levels that may pose health risks to people who consume the fish.  Mercury is prevalent in the Delta watershed due to human activities, such as historic mercury mining in the Coastal range and gold mining in the Sierra Nevada, and naturally occurring deposits.  Mercury concentrations in several species of fish at many locations in the Delta watershed exceed the health-based screening values set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The Environmental Health Investigations Branch (EHIB) of the California Department of Health Services is the lead agency coordinating the Delta Fish Project, an interagency effort to reduce exposure to mercury in populations that consume fish caught in the Delta watershed.  During August 2002-September 2003, EHIB conducted a needs assessment in five priority counties in the Delta watershed: Lake, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Placer, and Yolo.  The counties were selected based primarily on the following criteria: (1) high levels of mercury in fish, and (2) high levels of fishing activity.  The purpose of the assessment was to identify specific populations that consume fish caught in the Delta watershed, and to determine fish contamination awareness, concerns, and information needs of county health and environmental health departments, Native American tribes, and community-based organizations (CBOs) and health care providers that serve populations who consume fish from the watershed.

Needs assessment findings include the following: (1) while county health and environmental health departments believe that local fish contamination is a public health concern, they are not undertaking public outreach and education activities, in large part due to competing public health needs that are a higher priority for these counties, (2) Pomo Indian tribal members reported that some members fish in local waterbodies and consume their catch while others do not due, in large part, to a belief that the waters are polluted with mercury and other contaminants, (3) health care providers are not aware of any concern among their patients about mercury contamination of fish, and (4) members of Southeast Asian, Latino, African-American, and Russian communities regularly eat fish, especially striped bass and catfish, from local waters, and have generally low awareness of fish consumption advisories and the health risks of  exposure to mercury in fish. EHIB recommends the following: (1) develop and disseminate outreach and education messages and materials in collaboration with local government agencies, tribes, and CBOs, (2) use visual images (e.g., pictures, posters, calendars, videos) and mass media (e.g., television and radio) to effectively communicate messages to target populations, (3) collaborate with health care providers (i.e., family practice physicians, obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians, physicians assistants, and nurse practitioners) to inform target populations, especially women of childbearing age, and (4) evaluate outreach and education activities on an ongoing basis to ensure the effectiveness and appropriateness of messages, materials, and communication methods.

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