Cyanobacteria and Fish: A Toxic Health Threat to Tribal Communities?

EPA Grant Number: FP917493
Title: Cyanobacteria and Fish: A Toxic Health Threat to Tribal Communities?
Investigators: Preece, Ellen P
Institution: Washington State University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: August 20, 2012 through August 19, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Environmental and Water Science


The prevalence of toxic cyanobacteria is increasing in freshwater worldwide, thus humans reliant on fish for their diet, such as Native Americans, may face adverse health effects from eating contaminated fish. This research will determine if members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are exposed to the cyanotoxin microcystin by consuming fish harvested from reservation lakes. This research also will determine if cooking fish makes microcystin more biologically available, and therefore more likely to move through the food web.


This study will concentrate on collecting fish from four lakes on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in northern Washington State known to have cyanobacteria blooms. Fish will be analyzed raw, seared, boiled and baked. Fish also will be tested for the cyanotoxin microcystin using two immunoassay (ELISA) tests and liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled with a mass spectrometer.

Expected Results:

It is expected that the cyanotoxin microcystin will be found in trout collected from lakes with cyanobacteria blooms. The results from this study will be used in conjunction with a fish consumption survey recently conducted by the Colville Confederated tribes and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Positive microcystin concentrations measured throughout the summer then can be transformed into a dietary exposure assessment using information collected in the consumption survey. These exposure profiles will be used to form risk assessments to identify the degree of risk being posed to tribal members.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection
With the dependency on fish as an inexpensive protein source for both tribal and other communities worldwide, a better understanding of the potential for trophic transfer of cyanotoxins is necessary. Determining the levels of the most common cyanotoxin, microcystin, in fish tissue will help communities reliant on consuming fish from polluted lakes determine dietary exposure assessments for fish and other aquatic biota. Identifying risks associated with consumption of microcystin will help communities determine mitigation practices for improving water quality and decreasing the occurrence of cyanobacteria.

Supplemental Keywords:

fish, cyanobacteria, toxin

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final