UB Researchers Play Major Role in New Effort to Study Effect on Children of Eating Contaminated Great Lakes Fish

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 2, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The University at Buffalo's Toxicology Research Center will receive $1.3 million over the next five years as a participant in a new six-member children's environmental health research center formed to study the effects of eating large quantities of contaminated Great Lakes fish on Laotian and Hmong refugees.

The project, called the Fox River Environmental and Diet Study, or FRIENDS, is centered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Fox River, which cuts through Green Bay, is one of the most heavily PCB-contaminated sites in the Great Lakes Basin and the single largest source of PCBs entering Lake Michigan.

Fish from the Fox River and Lake Michigan make up an important part of the diet of the two refugee groups being studied. Researchers will look at the effect of eating fish from these contaminated sources on the motor, sensory and mental development of the refugees' children. The project also will involve educating the communities on safe fishing sites, safe types of fish and preparation methods that reduce the risk of contamination

UB's Toxicology Research Center will serve as the core analytical toxicology facility for the study. Paul Kostyniak, Ph.D., director of the center, will head the analytical core project. James Olson, Ph.D., UB professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and Richard Fitzpatrick, laboratory director of the Toxicology Research Center, also will play principal roles in the project.

The center will perform exposure assessment studies for the project designed to determine the risks associated with environmental exposures to PCBs, pesticides and methylmercury. Techniques used at the center permit researchers to measure levels of specific PCB congeners at part-per-billion levels in human serum samples, said Kostyniak.

Center researchers also will study the role PCB metabolites (substances formed as PCBs break down in the body) play in producing adverse effects. "The results of these studies will be useful to any state or federal agency responsible for setting standards for human exposures to environmental contaminants," Kostyniak said.

Kostyniak and colleagues have been conducting research for the past 10 years on the health effects associated with eating Lake Ontario fish, which provide a source of environmental exposure to PCBs and other persistent contaminants. This ongoing study is investigating a cohort of people and their spouses who fish regularly in Lake Ontario.

A related study by Olson and colleagues at the New York State Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation is using a sensitive bioassay system to screen for dioxin-like compounds in Great Lakes fish.

The center specializes in investigating the toxicity and mechanism of action of metals, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, and metabolites, and in developing new biomarkers of chemical exposure, individual susceptibility, and biological effects.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, Michigan State University, the New York State Department of Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center also are members of the new consortium.