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April 16, 2003

Baltimore Area Anglers at Risk from Contaminated Fish

Anglers who fish Baltimore's urban waterways could be at risk of getting sick from handling the fish they catch, according to a study conducted by Ellen K. Silbergeld, PhD, professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study found that most of the fish sampled from the area's rivers and streams were contaminated with forms of bacteria that could cause diarrhea or stomach ailments. While cooking these fish thoroughly can kill bacteria, Dr. Silbergeld said anglers can be exposed to the bacteria while fishing, including contact with water, catching the fish, removing them from the hooks, and preparing them for cooking.

As part of the study, Dr. Silbergeld and her colleagues also compared fishing and fish consumption practices in 1,000 licensed anglers by a mail survey, with 70 urban anglers interviewed at popular fishing spots around Baltimore, including the Back River, Middle River, Jones Falls, Lake Roland, Gwynns Falls, and the Inner Harbor. The survey found that the urban anglers fished more often and more frequently ate their catch, as compared to the licensed anglers, who mostly fished for recreation and rarely ate caught fish (between 10 and 20 meals a month, more often than anglers in less urban areas). Dr. Silbergeld, together with Thaddeus Graczyk, PhD, associate research professor with the School’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, also analyzed several dozen fish collected from the same fishing sites to confirm the presence of pathogens, including Cryptosporidium, Giardia, E coli, and Salmonella.

Dr. Silbergeld presented the findings on April 14 at the National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration in Baltimore, Md. The presentation was part of the "Health of the Bay: Health of People" scientific session organized by the School's Center for A Livable Future. The study was supported by the School’sCenter in Urban Environmental Health, which is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Baltimore Sun article

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or

Photographs of Ellen Silbergeld are available upon request.