Home > Uncategorized > NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner – A Woman – Downplays Health Risks To Women and Children From Eating Toxic Fish

NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner – A Woman – Downplays Health Risks To Women and Children From Eating Toxic Fish

Women and Children First?

Rosy DEP Press Release Claims Have No Scientific Basis

The Christie Administration’s DEP press office was notorious for spinning and, at times, flat out false statements. After 8 years, their credibility was at an all time low in all quarters.

Yesterday, the Murphy DEP press office – still staffed by Gov. Christie’s holdovers – issued a highly misleading press release headlining the “good news” – check out the headline:



The public’s takeaway from this press release can only mean 2 things (both false and/or not supported by science and data):

1) the fact that the DEP is “easing” consumption advisories must mean that fish are less dangerous to eat

2) there has been a “decline in persistent contaminants” in NJ waterbodies

But the misleading nature of the DEP press release is not limited to the headline.

The DEP makes this claim in the opening paragraph:

The Department of Environmental Protection has eased consumption advisories on certain fish species caught in the lower Delaware River and Delaware Bay, an indication of improving ecological conditions as levels of contaminants decline, Acting Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today.

 “These changes reflect an ongoing trend in which contaminants from past pollution such as PCBs and pesticides continues to decline,” Acting Commissioner McCabe said.

I call bullshit on that.

For some USGS, NJ DEP and other science that refutes McCabe’s DEP’s spin, see: More Dual Sexed Fish Documented In NJ Rivers. If you read only one thing in that post, make sure you read this letter from there NJ Chemistry Council to NJ DEP, thanking them for abandoning proposed strict surface water quality standards for persistent toxic  chemicals, known as “wildlife criteria” (READ LETTER!)

The basis for the DEP press release claims are scientifically ludicrous. The DEP did not even attempt to support those press release claims with data or science, either in thee press release or the body of the advisory document.

The DEP “eased” consumption advisories based on short term and slight changes in [unpublished and likely not peer reviewed] limited fish tissue sampling data for a very limited set of chemical contaminants and fish species (some of which migrate beyond NJ waters) in a very limited geographic range. This is not statistically significant or methodologically representative data.

It is ABSURD and a lie to use that kind of sparse data to make a broad statement about trends in water quality and “ecological conditions” (which are defined to include all species of plants and animals (i.e. “biota”), sediments, and water quality for all chemicals of concern.)

Historically, the annual DEP fish consumption advisories have been limited in focus to public health. Here is the text from the DEP 2017 advisory document -not the spun press release -as an example of that:

Health Effects from Consumption of Contaminated Fish and Crabs General Advice

Exposure to low levels of some contaminants in the environment may have long lasting health effects on people. Mercury, PCBs and dioxins are among the major contaminants found in some New Jersey fish in portions of the state. These contaminants can be especially harmful to women of childbearing age, pregnant women and nursing mothers. Trace amounts of these contaminants may remain in your body for a period of time after eating. Should you become pregnant during this time, these contaminants can be passed along to your fetus, potentially affecting the development of the nervous system. Children are also at risk of developmental and neurological problems if exposed to these chemicals. (@ page 2)

According to the DEP Advisory document, striped bass, American eel, bluefish, lobster – statewide – are “DO NOT EAT” for sensitive populations, defined as:

High Risk Individuals: Includes infants, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women of childbearing age.

Those kind of warnings should have been the headline and opening for DEP’s press release, not lies about “easing” advisories and “improving ecological conditions”.

So much for Gov. Murphy’s policy priority of “putting women first”.

Historically, the DEP fish consumption advisories have not been designed or  intended to make science based statements about the “ecological conditions” of NJ waters or trends in state water water quality.

The proper scientific forum for those issues is the DEP’s Clean Water Act’s Section 305 Water Quality Report (or DRBC toxics criteria or TMDL documents).

Commissioner McCabe is a lawyer and experienced regulator, and must know this.

McCabe is actually spinning and misleading the public worse than her predecessor, Bob Martin, a man with no legal, scientific, or environmental training or experience.

We’re deeply disappointed that a female DEP Commissioner would downplay health risks to women and children, while spinning the science to mislead the public.

Thankfully, veteran reporter Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight did not get spun and wrote a good story, despite DEP’s misleading release, see:  NEW JERSEY, DELAWARE EASE ADVISORIES ON CERTAIN FISH –  Action indicates drop in contamination, but some shellfish and other fish should be avoided, especially by women of childbearing age

But why on earth is Jeff Tittel essentially pulling his punches and supporting DEP’s spin?

“For the first time, we are seeing where some fish advisories are being eased,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “however, we have a long way to go. There is still some fish that we cannot eat.”

If the Christie/Martin DEP press office pulled this kind of stunt he would have blasted it as spin.

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