Thursday, July 13, 2000

New zebra fish go to work

Glowing fish guard Clermont Co. water

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WILLIAMSBURG — Clermont County gained a unique early warning system for its drinking water Wednesday.

        Genetically altered zebra fish will glow if they encounter cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

        Biochemist Paul Russell poured the minnow-size fish into a tank at the monitoring station on the East Fork of the Little Miami River.

        “We'll be monitoring them from here on out,” he said.

        Dr. Russell, a county resident and consultant, expects to check the fish daily when he feeds them.

        Zebra fish will glow because a firefly gene has been inserted into their genetic material.

        A lot is to be learned about their ability to survive and work in the river water as it flows through this community about 30 miles east of Cincinnati, he said.

        The fish are designed to respond to PCB concentrations thousands of times less than can be detected with conventional tests.

        Clermont County fears PCBs might otherwise leak into its major water sources undetected from the now-closed CECOS hazardous waste dump.

        If the experiment works, county officials and anglers will have an early warning of pollutants leaking into the East Fork and accumulating in the edible flesh of fish caught in Harsha Lake into which the river empties.

        So far, PCB levels are low, but there is growing concern about long-term, low-level exposure.

        PCBs were used in hydraulic fluid and insulating oil for electrical equipment, paints, flame retardants, etc. Health concerns ended their U.S. production in 1979.

        Today, most PCBs found in the environment are blamed on discarded equipment and industrial wastes.

        Dr. Michael Carvan III performed the gene transfer at the University of Cincinnati.

        He said the only other use of genetically altered zebra fish as detectives is in the Netherlands where they are being used to spot low levels of estrogens.


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