Study shellfish toxins carefully, not quickly

December 23, 2013 

In response to your Dec. 18 editorial about the Chinese shellfish import ban, your argument about economic impact is understandable, but I believe that the impact has to be viewed in the context of supplying a luxury food to the wealthy in China.

One can wish that our area was supplying critical nutrients in a humanitarian manner to a starving population, but that is far from the case. I think the main point that wasn’t addressed in your article is the question of impact on human health both abroad and here in the U.S.

If the Chinese testing is correct, then the monitoring the Department of Natural Resources has been doing is deficient in its completeness.

Just understanding that the geoduck is a creature that lives in the muddy substrate of Puget Sound during a lifespan of up to 100-plus years has to make one wonder why toxins, which are known to exist in the Sound, haven’t been tested for arsenic for the sake of human safety sooner. People of this area expect safe food and water.

We are so concerned for that safety that our wastewater management agency, LOTT, has undertaken a multiyear study of reclaimed waste water to try to test and reassure the public that there are not toxins or chemicals that could compromise human health in the water they process and discharge. Why should we expect less scrutiny of the food we harvest for human consumption to be acceptable?

Allowing DNR to do the testing is, in my opinion, like “letting the fox guard the hen house.” DNR’s mandate is to manage resources and to that end they often sit at the same side of the table as the geoduck industry in hearings and examinations of aquaculture controversy. The state Department of Health would be a much better agency to protect our health as that is their mandate.

This issue has to be resolved as your article states, but I suggest that it is studied thoroughly to ensure it is resolved correctly rather than just “quickly.”

If there are toxins in the geoducks, then those toxins come from the mud they grow in and the geoduck harvesting method re-suspends all of that mud and any toxins that might be in it. Those toxins, which were best left undisturbed, could enter the food stream of fish and shellfish from Puget Sound we all eat and enjoy.

Dr. Edward Steinweg, a physician, lives in Olympia.

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