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Study: Hmong ignoring fish dangers, eating contaminated fish

DATELINE: GREEN BAY, Wis. - December 15, 2000, Friday

While many Hmong say they do not eat fish caught in the Fox River, a recent study suggests the community is not sufficiently aware of the health hazards posed by the potentially contaminated fish.

The study, conducted by the State Medical Society of Wisconsin, found 70 percent of Southeast Asians surveyed who fish the Fox River in Northeast Wisconsin were unaware of health risks from eating the fish.

The fish are contaminated from PCBs released by paper mills into rivers from the 1950s until the early 1970s. The chemicals remain for decades in river sediment and small organisms consumed by bottom feeders, such as carp.

May Lee Lor, who works for the Fort Howard/Jefferson Family Resource Center, said she did not believe many Hmong were eating contaminated fish.

"I think people are kind of scared to eat out of the river right now," Lor said. "I don't know if people really fish out of the river. I think they go to small streams."

Vaughn Vang, a guidance counselor for the Green Bay School District who has worked to educate Southeast Asians who fish, agreed the problem was probably not widespread.

"I don't know many people who are out there fishing," he said. "I'm sure there are some, but I think they don't care. They're going to eat the fish anyway."

The researchers found that 17 percent of people fishing ate the fish, while 83 percent practice "catch and release." Most were not familiar with Wisconsin's fish advisory, but had heard of the health risks from local papers and television.

Asian anglers made up 59 percent of those who reported eating fish.

The researchers interviewed 104 anglers, of which 19 percent were Asian.

Jai Vang, executive director of the Hmong Association of Green Bay, said the survey might have been too small to give an accurate picture of fishing and Southeast Asians.