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DHS news release

Sept. 16, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180

Technical contact: Amanda Guay (503) 731-4025

Fish hazards prompt mini-grants for community groups

For a second year, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) is making available small grants in the Portland area to educate various community and ethnic groups about health risks of eating fish from the Willamette River.

DHS will award three to 10 grants, funded with federal dollars, ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 each between Nov. 15, 2004, and June 30, 2005. Application deadline is 5 p.m. on Oct. 15. Application packets can be obtained on the DHS public health Web site or by calling DHS public health educator Amanda Guay at (503) 731-4025. Collaboration among applicants is encouraged.

"This summer we issued an advisory about high levels of PCBs in Portland Harbor fish — which really underscores the importance of these mini-grants," said Guay.

Guay said it is well known that various community and ethnic groups regularly catch and eat fish from that area of the river.

"This is an opportunity for leadership organizations, youth groups and churches to help educate others in their own community," Guay said. "We have current health information, but it needs to be translated and communicated in ways that take into account specific cultural practices."

"We are encouraging Latino, African American and Russian groups to apply. We know they are among the populations that eat fish from the Portland Harbor, and these communities did not compete for a mini-grant last year."

In 2000, the federal Environmental Protection Agency added a six-mile section of the Willamette River from the southern tip of Sauvie Island to the Fremont Bridge to its national Superfund list. Contaminants found in sediment from this section of the river include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides and heavy metals, which tend to build up in fish. The health effects of these contaminants may include cancer and damage to the brain, liver and immune system.

Guay advises that women of childbearing age, or who are pregnant or nursing, children and people with weak immune systems should choose fish that are lower in PCBs, such as salmon and steelhead.

She also says that since PCBs tend to accumulate in the fat, exposure can be significantly reduced by proper preparation and cooking. This means removing the skin, belly, back and side fat and removing eggs, eyes, head and organs of the fish.

Last year, DHS awarded five mini-grants to Benson High School Health Occupations Program, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Linnton Community Center, Asian Health & Service Center and Asian Pacific American Consortium on Substance Abuse. Resulting projects included direct outreach, special workshops, development of culturally appropriate materials and even a coloring book targeting tribal communities.

The mini-grants are completely funded with federal dollars through a cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.