Freshwater fish are filled with ‘forever chemicals’ at alarming levels, researchers find

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals used in a variety of industrial and consumer products — from plastics to cosmetics — and have been linked to health problems like cancer and infertility. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade over time in the environment.

Environmental Working Group researchers analyzed more than 500 samples of fish fillets collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2015. That means eating an 8-ounce serving of fish with as much PFOS as the study shows is equivalent to drinking water containing 48 ppt PFOS for a month — which would be 2,400 times the EPA-recommended limit.

“People who eat freshwater fish for a living as a source of protein — that’s really of paramount importance,” said David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group and lead author of the study. “Especially when those people are in or closer to urban areas, closer to places where development is happening.”

As EEC Interactive map shows, some fish raised from Mountain West rivers and streams contained significantly higher total PFAS levels. In Colorado, channel catfish from the Yampa River had more than six times the median (60,718 ppt). In Wyoming, North Platte River rainbow trout had more than fivefold (49,976 ppt). In New Mexico, the Rio Grande River carp had more than fourfold (43,183 ppt).

Mean total PFAS levels in freshwater fish are nearly 300 times higher than in store-bought fish, Andrews said, citing a Seafood Survey 2022 by the US Food and Drug Administration.

He said that’s because marine and farmed fish are typically farther from industrial pollution sources and have cleaner water supplies.

Last June, the EPA updated its lifetime health recommendations for drinking water for PFOS and PFOA – two of the most commonly used and studied chemicals – to 0.02 ppt and 0.004 ppt, respectively, much lower than the previously recommended limit of 70 ppt.

This story was produced by Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with the support of partner stations throughout the region. The Mountain West News Bureau is funded in part by the Society for Public Service Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

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