Fish Tissue Contaminant Monitoring Program

The primary purpose of KDHE's Fish Tissue Contaminant Monitoring Program is to inform the public of the potential health risks associated with consuming wild-caught fish in Kansas. Secondarily the program provides monitoring support in fulfillment of Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements. 

Program data are examined on a yearly basis, utilizing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk assessment methods to determine the need for issuing, maintaining, or rescinding fish consumption advisories. The resulting Fish Consumption Advisories (PDF) are then made available on this website and published in the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism's (KDWPT) annual Fishing Regulations. In addition, program data are often requested and utilized by university researchers, government agencies, and other interested parties. The program has been in operation since 1980. Since that time it has collected samples from 364 sites around the state. 

The resulting database currently includes 25,025 total contaminant records, 19,948 legacy organic pollutant records, and 5,077 total heavy metals records, which includes 2,197 mercury records and 2,880 non-mercury metals records. Over its 38-year operational history the program has been instrumental in discovering contaminated waterbodies, keeping the public informed about the safety of eating locally caught fish, and documenting the long-term environmental fate of some of history's most important and persistent environmental pollutants.


Currently the program is focused on two types of pollutants: toxic metals and legacy organic pollutants. In Kansas, the toxic heavy metals cadmium and lead have been found at high levels in the tissues of mussels and clams in the Spring River and Shoal Creek basins of extreme southeast Kansas because of former mining activities. Mercury is a toxic metal globally recognized as the most wide-spread contaminant of concern for consumers of wild-caught fish. Women who are or may become pregnant and children are most at risk for exposure to mercury in food. This is because toxic metals interfere with normal neurological (nerve and brain) development in fetuses and children possibly resulting in neurological deficits including impaired motor function abilities and reduced IQ. Exposed adults, because of their fully developed neurological system, usually only suffer temporary effects until the metals are eventually excreted from the body. KDHE's fish tissue advisories (PDF) contain specific consumption advice, related to mercury, for both the general population and sensitive subpopulations such as women of childbearing age and children.

Legacy organic pollutants are a class of man-made chemicals that persist in the environment long after they were introduced. They include various herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, industrial chemicals and/or their degradation products. Some are historically significant such as chlordane, DDT, PCBs, dioxins and furans. When consumed by humans they can be disruptive of the endocrine (hormone) system, thus affecting development and reproduction and in the long term can greatly increase a person's risk for cancer. Fish and wildlife also have been affected by legacy pollutants. The pesticide DDT was linked to the near extinction of birds such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and brown pelican. Although the production and use of most of these historically significant chemicals ceased several decades ago, their residues are extremely persistent and continue to represent an environmental risk today.

Fish Samples

Fish samples are normally collected each year from 30-50 river, stream, and lake sites often with valuable assistance provided by Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism and EPA personnel. The program is currently stratified into randomized, targeted, and census type sampling components. The random component consists of mercury data collected from randomly selected stream and river sites throughout Kansas in support of CWA section 305(b) requirements (PDF)

The targeted component focuses on stream, river, and lake sites with current fish consumption advisories, long-term trend monitoring sites, screening new sites suspected of legacy pollutant contamination, and special investigations. Recently, the program has targeted many urban fishing ponds and lakes for screening. This is done to ensure that the large numbers of fish being stocked, caught, and eaten from urban fisheries, especially those enrolled in the Community Fisheries and Assistance Program (CFAP), do not represent long-term health risks to those who enjoy harvesting them. The census component involves the 17 most heavily harvested large reservoirs in Kansas. Popular predatory sport fish such as crappie, walleye, white bass, and wipers from these reservoirs are analyzed every two years using a rotational schedule for mercury contamination. 

These layered efforts are aimed at providing quality data from a variety of waterbody types and locations in Kansas in order to provide the best consumer guidance related to contamination in Kansas' fish that our currently very limited resources will allow.