New research has revealed that consuming just one freshwater fish caught in a river or lake in the United States is equivalent to ingesting a month’s worth of water contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. These invisible chemicals, first developed in the 1940s for their resistance to water and heat, are now commonly found in everyday items such as non-stick pans, textiles, fire suppression foams and food packaging. However, the indestructibility of these pollutants, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, means that they have accumulated over time in the environment, including the air, soil, lakes, rivers, food, drinking water, and even in our bodies.
Increased calls for stricter regulations for PFAS, the toxic “forever chemicals” have been growing due to their link to various serious health problems, such as liver damage, high cholesterol, weaker immune systems, and various types of cancer. In order to determine the level of PFAS contamination in locally caught fish, a group of researchers conducted a study by analyzing over 500 samples from rivers and lakes across the United States between 2013 and 2015. The study published in the journal Environmental Research found the median level of PFAS in fish to be 9,500 nanogrammes per kilogram.
The researchers found that almost three-quarters of the detected “forever chemicals” were PFOS, which is one of the most prevalent and dangerous among the thousands of PFAS compounds. According to the calculation of the researchers, consuming just one freshwater fish is equal to drinking water contaminated with PFOS at 48 parts per trillion for a month. In 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the safe level of PFOS in drinking water to 0.02 parts per trillion.
According to the study, the total level of PFAS in freshwater fish was 278 times higher than what has been found in commercially sold fish. David Andrews, a senior scientist at the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group, which conducted the research, stated that he grew up catching and eating fish, but now can’t help but think about PFAS contamination every time he sees one. He also pointed out that the findings are particularly alarming, particularly for disadvantaged communities that rely on fish as a source of protein or for cultural and social reasons.
The findings of this research have sparked great frustration among many, including David, as it highlights the negligent actions of companies that have contaminated the earth with PFAS and evaded accountability for their actions. Andrews, is calling for stricter regulations to put an end to all non-essential uses of PFAS. The research comes on the heels of a proposal submitted to the European Chemicals Agency by Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, calling for a ban on PFAS. The proposal, which is one of the most extensive in the EU’s history, is a response to the lack of adequate control of PFAS and the need for regulation at a European level, according to the agency.