Arsenic To Blame For Chinese Ban On Shellfish Imports From Washington

Dec 20, 2013

China banned all imports of shellfish from Alaska to Northern California last week. Chinese officials said two samples of geoduck came back with high levels of arsenic and the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Chinese officials said two samples of geoduckcame back with high levels of arsenic and the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Credit timbu / Flickr

Geoduck is a large clam that sells for up to $150 a pound in China.

The sample from Washington had high levels of arsenic, according to new information from China.

The Washington sample was harvested by the Puyallup tribe in an area of Puget Sound just Northeast of Tacoma.

The area had previously been closed to shellfish harvest because of pollution from a copper smelter that operated in Tacoma for almost 100 years. The smelter released arsenic and other metals into the surrounding waters. Arsenic is a known carcinogen.

The Puyallup tribe petitioned the state to reopen the area in 2007 so the state conducted a study and decided shellfish in the area were not too contaminated to harvest.

Dave McBride, a toxicologist with the Washington Department of Health, says “We really don’t believe there is any issue with inorganic arsenic in the geoduck."

McBride says the Department of Health plans to do more tests but has not conducted any tests for arsenic since the site was reopened in 2007.

State health officials say they are still waiting to hear from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with information from the Chinese about how they conducted their tests.

NOAA has so far declined to be interviewed on the record for this story.

Officials estimate the state geoduck industry is losing $5-600,000 dollars each week the Chinese shellfish ban persists.

Copyright Northwest Public Radio 2013.