The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) has reviewed waterfowl (i.e., wood ducks, mallards) laboratory data for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and related compounds for the Housatonic River and some of its impoundments downstream of the General Electric property in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as well as for a background comparison site considered uncontaminated. These data were generated as a result of on-going investigations in this area by the environmental regulatory agencies. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Laboratory data for waterfowl from the Housatonic River show highly elevated concentrations of PCBs." PCB concentrations were higher than levels typically encountered elsewhere in the United States and exceed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food tolerance for commercial poultry of 3.0 mg/kg (fat basis).

While waterfowl data for the background site showed significantly lower concentrations of PCBs, many still exceeded the FDA food tolerance levels.

Health concerns associated with PCB exposure include developmental problems for the fetus and infants, damage to the immune system as well as concerns associated with long-term exposure and potential cancer risk. MDPH has had an advisory in place for fish, frogs, and turtles for the Housatonic River since 1982.

The Department would also like to remind residents and local sports license holders of Western Massachusetts of the MDPH toll free hotline number 1-800-240-4266 established two years ago offering Housatonic area residents who are concerned about exposure to PCBs to have an interview and free blood test done to determine exposure levels.

Provisional Waterfowl Consumption Advisory Recommendations

  1. People should refrain from eating all mallards and wood ducks from the Housatonic River and its impoundments from Pittsfield south to Rising Pond in Great Barrington.
  2. In all areas other than the Housatonic River area, to reduce exposure to PCBs, wild waterfowl should be skinned and all fat removed before cooking. Stuffing should be discarded after cooking. Drippings should not be used for gravy. Waterfowl should be eaten in moderation (e.g., no more than two meals per month). Canada geese are not included in this advisory.

Comparison of PCBs in Duck Tissue reported in ppm

Housatonic River, MAThree Mile Pond, MALower Fox River,WI
Average Maximum Average Maximum Average Maximum
Breast Tissue7.119.40.63.40.43.5
Liver Tissue10.638.60.20.7NA


This information is provided by the Environmental Toxicology Program within the Department of Public Health.