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New EPA Study Shows Forever Chemicals Found in Fish Is a Significant Health Concern

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on June 4, 2024

A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study highlights that PFAS, or forever chemicals found in fish are a significant health concern. Specifically, freshwater fish.

Knowledge about these chemicals has been around for over a decade, but little has been done in the long run to reduce exposure risk.

Here’s what we know.

Forever Chemicals Found in Fish

New research coming from the EPA warns people fishing in local freshwater areas have higher exposure to PFAS, or forever chemicals than other consumers.

According to the paper, the PFAS are “widely detected” across the United States in freshwater fish. In fact, U.S. EPA fish testing performed between 2013 to 2015 showed a median concentration of these forever chemicals was 11,800 ng/kg.

The EPA warns that “even infrequent freshwater fish consumption can increase serum PFOS levels,” with one serving of freshwater fish being the same as drinking 48 parts per trillion concentration water for a month.

What Are PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS are part of the perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) family and are primarily used as a manufactured additive that has been widely used since the 1950s. These substances are used to make products nonstick, resistant to stains, and damage caused by water and grease.

They are everywhere!

Products like nonstick cookware, cell phones, clothing, flooring, furniture, food packaging, and even makeup contain these PFAS.

Why are they called “forever chemicals?”

These PFAS don’t break down. Well, not easily anyway. They pollute the environment, wind up in public water systems and private wells, and affect the county’s drinking water.

Not only does it affect human water supply, but also the animals that humans eat. These forever chemicals accumulate in the bodies of not only fish and shellfish, but also dairy animals, livestock, and game animals that humans use for food.

Higher Levels of Forever Chemicals Found in Fish Than Acceptable

The study brought to light the staggering amount of forever chemicals found in fish in freshwater areas.

“The levels of PFOS found in freshwater fish often exceeded an astounding 8,000 parts per trillion,” said study coauthor David Andrews, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, the nonprofit environmental health organization that analyzed the data.

To put that in perspective. The EPA only allows 70 parts per trillion of PFOS in the national drinking water. And that is even more than the recommended 0.02 parts per trillion that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would prefer the limit be set at.

“You’d have to drink an incredible amount of water – we estimate a month of contaminated water – to get the same exposure as you would from a single serving of freshwater fish,” says Andrews. Just a single locally caught freshwater fish a year can pose a significant impact on the levels of PFOS in your blood and to your health.

Contamination Found Across the Country

The biggest concern is that the problem is so widespread. It is everywhere!

It isn’t just in areas close to industry where you might expect heavy contamination, says toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. This is “very concerning.”

Everyone is Exposed!

According to a 2019 report using data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, these forever chemicals have been found in the blood serum of 98% of Americans.

“More than 2,800 communities in the US, including all 50 states and two territories, have documented PFAS contamination,” says Dr. Ned Calonge, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.

Why Are These Forever Chemicals Bad for Humans?

So, what exactly do these forever chemicals do to the body?

Besides being a chemical not normally found in the human body, these forever chemicals can affect the immune system.

More specifically, the antibody response to vaccination. As little as 0.004 parts per trillion PFAS can have an impact.

Animal studies have shown PFAS can cause damage to the liver, cause low birth weight, contribute to birth defects and delayed development. Newborn deaths in lab animals have also been seen.

Unfortunately, limited studies have been done with humans. But as more and more people are exposed there will likely be more anecdotal evidence in the coming years.

What is Being Done So Far?

Fortunately, American manufacturers have phased out using long-chain PFAS for US consumer products. However, they can still be found in some imported items. This began around 2016 for food packaging, and continued into the early 2000s for other consumer goods.

Sadly, the smaller chain PFAS are still used in products today. The smaller chain PFAS appear to have many of the same dangerous health impacts as the larger chain ones, so the problem of continued contribution has not been solved so far.

Experts Suggest Catch and Release to Reduce Human Impact of Forever Chemicals Found in Fish

In the meantime, the EPA continues to monitor the water supply, and those who catch fish for sport are “strongly” urged to catch and release rather than take home the fish for a meal.

Unfortunately, this may not be a feasible request for everyone.

Many people in lower socioeconomic groups and populations of indigenous people and immigrants often rely on eating freshly caught fish as part of their diet.

“They need it for food or because it’s their culture,” Birnbaum said. “There are Native American tribes and Burmese immigrants and others who fish because this is who they are. The is key to their culture. And you can’t just tell them not to fish.”

It’s a huge problem without a swift answer.

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If you’d like to know more about food safety topics in the news, like “New Study Shows Forever Chemicals Found in Fish is a Significant Health Concern” check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)