Assemblymember Quirk Introduces Bill to Protect Public Health

The health of all Californians who consume locally caught fish is threatened by exposure to neurotoxic mercury and other contaminants that accumulate in the aquatic food web. Under current law, the CA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issues fish consumption advisories when they determine that consuming certain locally caught fish presents a significant health risk. However, water body managers may choose not to post these advisories, and may refuse an offer from an outside agency to post advisories at the water body even when the advisory is specific to that location. This has resulted in inconsistent messaging statewide and leads to health disparities for at-risk populations who may rely on locally caught fish to supplement their food budget but may be unaware of the potential health risk.

California Assemblymember Bill Quirk recently introduced Assembly Bill 762 to improve statewide access to information about safe fish consumption guidelines for populations that consume locally caught fish. The bill would require local health officers to post health warnings upon the issuance of a site-specific fish or shellfish health advisory. This strengthens language contained in the Water Code (Division 7, Chapter 3, Article 4 Section 13177.5 (e)) which urges health officers to post health warnings pursuant to a health advisory.  Assembly Bill 762 would require health warnings to be posted at specified locations, and would require local health officers to coordinate with the State Department of Public Health, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board to identify appropriate posting locations and signage.

Since 2015, The Sierra Fund has led a regional effort to increase access to safe fish consumption information by organizing an annual volunteer event to post OEHHA fish advisories at waterbodies of the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Fund supports efforts to increase access to fish consumption advisories statewide and will be following AB 762 closely throughout the hearing process.