Background: The North American Great Lakes are home to > 140 types of fish and are famous for recreational and commercial fishing. However, the presence of toxic substances has resulted in the issuance of fish consumption advisories that are typically based on the most restrictive contaminant.
Objectives: We investigated whether these advisories, which typically neglect the existence of a mixture of chemicals and their possible additive adverse effects, are adequately protective of the health of humans consuming fish from the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes.
Methods: Using recent fish contaminant monitoring data collected by the government of Ontario, Canada, we simulated advisories using most-restrictive-contaminant (one-chem) and multi-contaminant additive effect (multi-chem) approaches. The advisories from the two simulations were compared to determine if there is any deficiency in the currently issued advisories.
Results: Approximately half of the advisories currently issued are potentially not adequately protective. Of the four Great Lakes studied, the highest percentage of advisories affected are in Lake Ontario if an additive effect is considered. Many fish that are popular for consumption, such as walleye, salmon, bass and trout, would have noticeably more stringent advisories.
Conclusions: Improvements in the advisories may be needed to ensure that the health of humans consuming fish from the Great Lakes is protected. In this region, total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury are the major contaminants causing restrictions on consuming fish, whereas dioxins/furans, toxaphene, and mirex/photomirex are of minor concern. Regular monitoring of most organochlorine pesticides and metals in fish can be discontinued.