Windsor

Windsor anglers not worried about high toxin levels found in Detroit River fish

A recent study from Michigan's health department showed people who eat fish from the river two or more times each month had twice or even three times the level of mercury and PCBs in their system compared to the average Michigan resident.

'I've been fishing this river since I was five years old and I'm not dead yet'

Anglers are not worried about high levels of contaminates found in Detroit River fish. 1:01

The threat of high toxin levels found in fish swimming around the Detroit River isn't enough of a worry to keep Windsor angler Ron Armstrong from eating whatever he reels in.

"I've been fishing this river since I was five years old and I'm not dead yet," he said.

A recent study from Michigan's state health department showed people who eat fish from the river two or more times each month had twice or even three times the level of mercury and PCBs in their system compared to the average Michigan resident.

But when it comes to the question of whether or not fish pulled from the river are safe to eat, Claire Sanders from the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup said the short answer is "yes."

"It is safe to eat some species from the Detroit River and not so safe to eat others," she explained.

Still, that doesn't mean it's time to pig out on anything aquatic, especially bottom feeders.

"The ones that hang out near the bottom like channel catfish and brown bullhead and carp are not so safe to eat," Sanders added.

A study from Michigan's health department showed people who eat fish from the Detroit River two or more times each month had twice or even three times the level of mercury and PCBs in their system compared to the average Michigan resident. (Nicolas Pham/Radio-Canada)

Despite decades of cleanup efforts, some industrial chemicals from years ago are still floating in the water where fish pick them up and can, in turn, pass them along to humans.

"A lot of them are what we call legacy contaminates," said Sanders. "They came from heavy industry along the river and waste water that wasn't properly treated."

Efforts to clean up the waterway after it was declared an "area of concern" in 1987 have gone a long way, according to Sanders. She called the thriving lake sturgeon population and return of bald eagles to the area signs of better water quality, and pointed out more people are enjoying the river too.

'Everybody down here is eating them'

Among those who have fished the river for years, the danger of potentially deadly toxins didn't really hold water.

Armstrong, who lives across for the water and fishes all spring and summer for "anything that bites" actually credits eating fish from the river as the magic ingredient behind a recent clear cancer test.

Judy Whiteford said she's been throwing a line in the river for 50 years. While she doesn't often eat her catch, she said government limits on the number of fish anglers can take home pretty well ensure people won't ingest too many contaminates. 

"Everybody down here is eating them," she said, gesturing to a broken line of anglers that ran along the waterfront and out of sight.

Judy Whiteford (right), shares a laugh with her granddaughter Blare. The pair have been fishing the Detroit River together for years. (Nicolas Pham/Radio-Canada)

For those who can't resist the taste of fresh fish, Sanders does has a few suggestions for ways to limit the number of toxins they might swallow.

She recommends taking the skin off and removing some of the fat where chemicals could be stored.

"Eating smaller fish is a good strategy too," she said. "They're younger so they haven't had as much time to build up contaminates in their body."

with files from Nicolas Pham and Radio-Canada