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The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has received results from its September polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) testing of fish tissue on Lake James.


One of the catfish sampled for PCBs from Lake James

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has received results from its September polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) testing of fish tissue on Lake James. While PCBs were detected in the samples, all three samples were below the state’s action level of 0.05 mg/kg.

“While the detection of PCBs in one of the most pristine areas of the basin is disappointing, we are encouraged that we now have some data and that it indicates PCB contamination is much less than elsewhere in the basin,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins. “This is a sad legacy of pollution and all the more reason to prevent today’s sources of pollutants.”

Three fish tissue samples were collected from Lake James, which is surrounded by Burke and McDowell Counties and is the first of 11 lakes in the Catawba River chain. A composite sample of three channel catfish (size range 580 to 631 mm) out of the Catawba arm of Lake James had PCBs at 0.038 mg/kg. A second composite sample of three channel catfish (512 to 580 mm) out of the Catawba arm had PCBs at 0.018 mg/kg. A third sample of an individual channel catfish (505 mm) out of the Linville arm had PCBs at 0.022 mg/kg. The state action level for PCBs is 0.050 mg/kg.

Testing was performed in coordination with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Jeff DeBerardinis, who performs fish testing under DENR’s Division of Water Resources, and Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins set six trot lines with chopped shad on September 3rd and 4th, evenly covering both arms (Catawba and Linville) of Lake James.

No PCB tests had ever been performed on fish in Lake James. DENR typically performs sampling but has been constrained by very limited resources. The issuance of consumption advisories is up to the State Toxicologist, who can also recommend additional testing.

“Despite lower than actionable levels of PCBs, people throughout the basin need to be wary of eating fish,” said Perkins. “The lack of data indicating contamination does not mean data exists indicating safe levels for specific contaminants. Here and elsewhere, we need more data that covers more species and more contaminants, but the data here for PCBs in channel catfish – typically some of the most contaminated by PCBs when they are present – is encouraging.

Fish advisories are issued after enough conclusive testing has been performed on a given species in a given location for a specific contaminant. Testing in recent years, including by the Catawba Riverkeeper, has led to advisories because of PCB contamination in various species of fish on Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie and Lake Wateree. North Carolina currently has a statewide fish consumption advisory because of mercury contamination in largemouth bass. Perkins’ advice: “Before catching and eating fish out of a waterway, people should check for local advisories, which will be specific to species and waterways.”

PCBs, which were used in transformers and elsewhere throughout the electrical industry, were banned in the late 1970s. However, they readily accumulate in fish tissue and do not readily degrade in the environment. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities and utilities in South Carolina have spent millions of dollars dealing with contaminated sewage sludge after illegal PCB oil dumping into sewer systems in 2013 and 2014. Some PCB-contaminated sludge was spread on farm fields.

PCBs can cause cancer and a variety of other health and developmental problems. There are 209 varieties – known as congeners – of PCBs. For years, the standard test for PCBs only targeted the limited varieties that were commonly produced, known as Arochlors. But recent research found that Arochlors could undergo slight changes to other PCB congeners when exposed in the environment. The Riverkeeper utilized a test method able to identify all 209 congeners. SGS Labs in Wilmington, N.C., performed the testing. The Lake James Environmental Association and the Community of Lake James both graciously contributed to testing expenses.

“This important test illustrates that PCBs are widespread, persistent pollutants, even where they may not be expected, and that the test method that can detect all 209 congeners of PCBs is the superior test,” said George Johnson, President of the Lake James Environmental Association. “We are pleased to have been able to help sponsor this project.”

“We at Community of Lake James are disappointed that PCBs were found in Lake James but pleased to know that the test showed amounts lower than elsewhere in the basin and below the state action level,” said Howard Morgan, President of Community of Lake James. “We will continue to represent and be champions for the residents of Lake James and the citizens that enjoy this area.”

More information is available at and on the Catawba Riverkeeper’s Facebook profile and the Foundation’s Facebook page.

For pictures and a summary of the original sampling trip, visit:

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Jan 25, 2017 NC Riverkeeper Report
From the perspectives of 12 NC Riverkeepers, this report discusses how multiple environmental issues pose challenges in the pursuit of clean, plentiful water. Whether you are in North Carolina or downstream in South Carolina, read this report about the state of environmental enforcement.
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The Community Foundation will fund Catawba Riverkeeper's work in Gaston County.
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Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in partnership with 4-H Clemson Cooperative Extension successfully completed our pilot Education Outreach Program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from Great Falls Elementary.
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Click here to fill out a pollution report or to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)


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Fish Advisories

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Fish consumption advisories have been issued throughout the Catawba-Wateree River basin.  Many of these advisories are the result of testing initiated by Catawba Riverkeeper and confirmed by state and local officials.  For a chart identifying fish types with the applicable advisories for the Charlotte area, click here.   For more information about the fish advisories, click here.

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