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The human body burden of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) sharply declined after production was banned in the US in 1979. For the 10% of the US population that remains most exposed to PCBs, fish consumption is the primary source. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data indicates that the highest remaining PCB levels exist in a non-Hispanic black subpopulation. Our review suggests that catfish consumption may be a significant PCB source for the one million non-Hispanic black anglers who fish for catfish. In comparison to non-Hispanic white anglers, non-Hispanic black anglers consume more catfish, are more likely to eat the whole fish rather than just the fillets that contain less PCBs, and are more likely to fish in watersheds with high PCB contamination.
Efforts to diminish potential racial disparities in PCB exposure are challenged by geographic, economic, cultural, and educational barriers. In response, we propose that a fish consumption survey be performed that identifies the extent of subsistence fishing by non-Hispanic black anglers for catfish in watersheds with PCB contamination, the type and quantity of catfish subsistence fishing provides, and what actions would help moderate PCB exposure due to subsistence fishing for catfish in such areas. Understanding the contamination and consumption factors that contribute to higher PCB body burdens will help identify and offer solutions to racial disparities in exposure to PCBs due to subsistence fishing while providing a model to prevent similar disparities in exposure to toxics ranging from mercury to polybrominated diphenyl ethers.