Eat Fish Safely: Projects
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Fish Program manages projects focused on fish advisory awareness, exposure to harmful chemicals, and fish-eating habits in Wisconsin. We then work with our community members and organizations to share information with the public on the health benefits and risks linked with eating fish. See our most recent projects below.
2020: Asian women of child-bearing age in the Milwaukee Area of Concern
Funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Great Lakes National Program Office.
This three-year project in the Milwaukee Area of Concern aims to reduce harmful exposures among Asian women of child-bearing age from sportfish consumption. We are recruiting Asian women from four ethnicities (Chinese, Filipino, Hmong and Karen) aged 18–50 years old. Focus group sessions were held with the targeted groups to assess factors that influence knowledge and awareness of the risks and benefits associated with fish consumption. A detailed survey of fish consumption and advisory awareness is currently being administered to 200 women, and a behavioral intervention will be performed. Structured outreach will be conducted to assess barriers, motivations, and concerns to advisory adherence. Using this information, effective and culturally appropriate outreach and educational materials for each targeted group will be developed.
2016: Great Lakes point-in-time survey 3
Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
Designed as the third project in a series of Point-in-Time Surveys (PITS) (the previous two occurred in 1993-4 and 2001-2), this project surveyed Great Lakes residents over the age of 18 to learn their fish-eating habits, awareness and influence of federal and state fish consumption advisories, and views of risks versus benefits of fish consumption. Results showed that most respondents only ate commercial fish. While half of the people who ate fish were aware of state or federal advisories, minorities and women were less aware of fish advisories.
Published Paper: “Fish consumption and advisory awareness in the Great Lakes basin” (2022) Science of the Total Environment.
2016: Biomonitoring study of urban anglers in the Milwaukee Area of Concern
Funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), through the EPA.
The goal of this project was to measure the amount of chemicals in people who eat fish caught from lakes and rivers near Milwaukee. This project also looked at the dietary habits, fishing practices, and general health among anglers and Burmese refugees, as they often eat large amounts of fish and may be at risk for having higher levels of chemicals in their bodies. The Milwaukee area was selected because portions of the Milwaukee Estuary are designated as an “Area of Concern” (AOC) due to historical pollution of the Milwaukee River and connected waterways, as well as Lake Michigan. Industrial, urban, and agricultural pollution have resulted contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals, which could threaten the health of people who regularly eat fish caught in the AOC. Results show that urban anglers had higher PFOS, PCB, and mercury concentrations than those in U.S. adults. In the future, we hope to use the results of this project to educate people about exposure to chemicals in the environment. More information about ATSDR and similar past projects can be found on the ATSDR website.
Published Paper: “Fish consumption, awareness of fish advisories, and body burden of contaminants among the Milwaukee urban anglers: A biomonitoring study” (2022) Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences.
Published Paper: “Fish consumption and awareness of fish advisories among Burmese refugees: A respondent-driven sampling study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin" (2021) Environmental Research.
2015: South Shore Women Choose Wisely
Funded by the EPA.
This project measured mercury levels in women ages 18-45 living in northern Wisconsin before and after they were given personalized health education to test whether it was an effective way to teach women about the risks and benefits of eating fish. On average, mercury levels increased by 0.01 parts per million following the intervention, despite declines in eating fish; however, women in the 90th percentile for mercury at the baseline test decreased levels significantly while eating large amounts of fish.
Infographic: South Shore Women Choose Wisely Project Results
Published Paper: “Changes in Hair Mercury Levels Among Women of Child-Bearing Age Following an Educational Intervention” (2017) Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
2013: Biomonitoring study of older male anglers
Since the 1980’s a cohort of Wisconsin male anglers have been surveyed at different times to collect data regarding fish eating habits along with relevant health information. The paragraphs below describe various analyses conducted with this group in 2013.
Project 1: Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
The aim of this project was to examine associations between endocrine disorders, like diabetes or thyroid disease, fish eating habits, and biological samples, like hair or blood, of contaminants and nutrients. We found that fish eating habits may affect the risk for endocrine disorders, but the extent of this connection may depend on the balance of the contaminants and nutrients in the individual diet.
Published Paper: "Fish consumption, levels of nutrients and contaminants, and endocrine-related health outcomes among older male anglers in Wisconsin" (2016) Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Project 2: Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
An additional project was conducted to determine fish eating habits and contaminant exposures linked with harmful cardiovascular disorders among older male anglers. The results showed that higher levels of mercury in the blood may put a person at higher risk for cardiovascular disorders, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), or a heart attack.
Published Paper: “Associations Between Fish Consumption and Contaminant Biomarkers with Cardiovascular Conditions Among Older Male Anglers in Wisconsin” (2016) Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Project 3: Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
An analysis from the same group examined perfluoroalkyl substances’ (PFAS) levels and factors associated with exposure, as well as associations between PFAS levels and self-reported health outcomes with high fish consumption. PFAS were associated mainly with endocrine related outcomes, such as pre-diabetes and diabetes, with a general trend towards increased risk of glucose intolerance and high cholesterol.
Published Paper: "Perfluoroalkyl substances in older male anglers in Wisconsin" (2016) Environmental International.
Project 4: Funded by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
In this project, participants were Wisconsin men aged 50 or older who fish in Wisconsin waters. They completed a detailed questionnaire on their fish-eating habits, and provided a hair and blood sample, which were analyzed for environmental pollutants, such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs, also called perfluoroalkyl compounds). Participants had somewhat higher mercury levels compared with the US general population, while levels of other contaminants were similar or lower. When looking at specific PCB, PBDE and PFC substances, consumption of fish from the Great Lakes and areas of concern was associated with higher levels of each of the individual PCB types examined, as well as higher levels of most of the PFCs examined.
Published Paper: "Levels of Persistent Contaminants in Relation to Fish Consumption Among Older Male Anglers in Wisconsin"(2016). Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.
Project 5: Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
Another project again examined Wisconsin male participants aged 50 or older who fish in Wisconsin waters. They completed a detailed questionnaire on their fish-eating habits, and provided a hair and blood sample, which were analyzed for levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); vitamin D; and selenium in the blood. We found that fish consumption was high, with most fish meals coming from locally caught fish. Our research also found that the effect of supplement use was much greater than that of fish consumption on nutrient levels, although consumption of fish from the Great Lakes and areas of concern was significantly associated with higher levels of vitamin D even after controlling for supplement usage.
Published Paper: "Levels of Nutrients in Relation to Fish Consumption among Older Male Anglers in Wisconsin" (2015) Environmental Research.
Infographic: Wisconsin Fisherman Study, P-01446
2011: Online survey of older male anglers
Funded by the EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office.
The goal of this project was to assess knowledge of and adherence to Wisconsin's fish consumption advisories among older male anglers, and to better understand their dietary habits and fishing practices. Data showed that Wisconsin’s consumption guidelines do not appear to discourage men from eating the fish they catch; rather, the most common behavioral changes included modifying the species eaten or the water body source of their meals.
Infographic: Online Survey Project Results, P-01554
Published Paper: "Comprehension of Fish Consumption Guidelines Among Older Male Anglers in Wisconsin" (2015) Journal of Community Health.