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As part of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, a project in New Mexico designed to clean the waters around the town of Rancho Santa Fe, doctors and researchers collected 30,000 samples from a body of water known as Cod Hole Creek.
The samples were collected throughout April and May of 2016 and June through July of 2017.
“Then we pulled them in March of this year and dried them off for about three months,” said Mark Weaver, a research biologist with the New Mexico Department of Health, who is part of the project.
They found that Cod Hole Creek is contaminated with osmosis polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which had been dumped by Bethlehem Steel during World War II.
In July 2017, researchers returned to the river to determine whether the contamination was still impacting fish. One of the groups that participated was the University of New Mexico’s Wildlife Management Institute.
The biologists collected another 30,000 samples from the Cod Hole Creek during the project. A mouse went to the toilet and the researcher found the animal had low levels of canthalrene, a known carcinogen found in the water. The fish tests came back positive for PCBs, in addition to several types of mussels and a variety of other animals.
The researchers said the fish need to be tested for the PCBs at “current levels for it to affect the health of humans or wildlife,” said Weaver.
“When you get levels this high in water, its going to present problems for wildlife and in this case, in human beings, because we don’t have a problem with human consumption,” said Weaver.
The samples measured 18 parts per billion for PCBs in the Cod Hole Creek water and 150 parts per billion in the whale ray samples. Weaver’s testing showed levels for the PCBs in the test tubes were “well in excess” of the what’s considered safe for the human population.
The Cod Hole Creek samples were collected before chloracne (a disease associated with preservatives) was found on hospital staff from an area just outside of Santa Fe.
In New Mexico, 11 patients who visited the hospital with what were thought to be chloracne-like symptoms had been treated with ivermectin , a bacteria treated water disinfectant. Seven of those patients have had to return for follow-up testing after having met the criteria for chloracne.
This is the first time health officials in New Mexico have linked the bacterium and its use in antibiotics and water disinfectants.