Study Finds High Levels of Forever Chemicals In Popular Great Lakes Sports Fish

Michigan – A shocking new study by the Environmental Working Group says that perfluorinated chemicals like PFAS and PFOS, (aka forever chemicals) are found in the freshwater fish that many sports fishermen the the Great Lakes region catch and eat. According to new research, eating even one serving of freshwater fish a year may be the same as drinking one month’s worth of highly contaminated “forever chemicals” in water.

Where Did These Forever Chemicals Come From?

Today, the  residue is evident in tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants, airports, and other sites where the chemical was used. PFAS were used in fire-fighting foams, which led to contamination at Air Force bases and National Guard locations. 

PFAS was an ingredient in consumer products like 3M’s Scotchguard. In 2000, 3M voluntarily withdrew Scotchgard from all consumer markets around the world. However, spray cans of  this product can still be found in cottages and homes more than 20 years later. 

Michigan Contamination With PFAS

The former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan, was one of the first places where PFAS contamination was discovered. Samples taken in March 2010 from wells and groundwater found PFAS forever chemicals in water community-wide.  PFAs have been found in local lakes and in deer hunted in the area. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that eating locally caught freshwater fish is a major way to get exposed to PFOS. However, there are no federal policies or rules that tell people how to eat fish that is low in PFOS or other PFAS. There are 17.6 million regular fish eaters in the United States who are 18 or older.

Effects of PFAS On Human Health

For PFAS measured at concentrations already found in the general population, exposure may suppress the immune system). Exposure to PFAS, with most studies focusing on PFOA and PFOS, has also been linked to a number of health problems, such as a higher risk of cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and problems with reproduction and development.

High PFAS Fish Contamination In Great Lakes

forever chemicals in great lakes fish

Recent monitoring in the United States indicates that sportfish caught from the Great Lakes or fish caught near PFAS-contaminated areas have much higher PFAS levels than commercially-sold fish. Fish samples include 44 different species, including channel catfish, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and walleye.

In rivers and streams across the United States, fish filets had a median total PFAS level of 9,500 ng/kg, but in the Great Lakes, that number rose to 11,800 ng/kg.

Calls For A National Health Advisory on Freshwater Fish

Last week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services updated its “Eat Safe Fish” guidelines to limit the amount of rainbow smelt that should be consumed based on elevated levels of PFOS. Due to elevated PFOS levels, the state recommends no more than 6 servings of Lake Huron smelt per year.

Currently, only 14 of the 50 states have issued a fish consumption advisory specific to PFAS. In an article carried by the Environmental Working Group, Nadia Barbo, a graduate student from Duke University who was working on the study, noted, “The extent that PFAS has contaminated fish is staggering.” “There should be a single health-protective fish consumption advisory for freshwater fish across the country.”

Final Thoughts on PFAS Forever Chemicals in Great Lakes Fish

Although the EPA found PFAS, especially PFOS, in almost all fish sampled from U.S. rivers and streams and the Great Lakes, the FDA found considerably lower amounts of PFAS in seafood purchased from grocery stores. Because many people eat fish they caught themselves, PFAS warnings will hurt those who can’t afford to buy fish instead of catching their own.

Chemical contaminants of these forever chemicals have been detected in freshwater fish across the United States. This is an instance of environmental injustice that threatens the way of life of people whose culture and survival depend on the fishing. According to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs 1.1 million anglers contributed $2.3 billion from fishing stemming from purchasing gear and clothing, booking hotel rooms, buying meals and more. The public health, and economic importance of identifying and eliminating PFAS exposure sources cannot be overstated.

Video – Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Fish Consumption in the Great Lakes Fish Consumer Study

Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Fish Consumption in the Great Lakes Fish Consumer Study

Sources

Nadia Barbo, Tasha Stoiber, Olga V. Naidenko, David Q. Andrews, Locally caught freshwater fish across the United States are likely a significant source of exposure to PFOS and other perfluorinated compounds, Environmental Research, Volume 220, 2023,115165, ISSN 0013-9351, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2022.115165.

B. Ruffle, et al. Perfluoroalkyl Substances in U.S. market basket fish and shellfish, Environ. Res., 190 (2020), Article 109932 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935122024926)

EWG study: Eating one freshwater fish equals a month of drinking ‘Forever chemicals’ water. Environmental Working Group. (2023, January 17). Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/2023/01/ewg-study-eating-one-freshwater-fish-equals-month-drinking

“Eat Safe Fish.” Michigan Releases New Fish Consumption Guidelines for Rainbow Smelt and Carp Caught in Various Lakes, 12 Jan. 2023, www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/inside-mdhhs/newsroom/2023/01/12/eat-safe-fish.

“Study Suggests US Freshwater Fish Highly Contaminated With ‘Forever Chemicals.’” The Hill, 17 Jan. 2023, thehill.com/policy/equilibrium-sustainability/3815490-study-suggests-us-freshwater-fish-highly-contaminated-with-forever-chemicals.

whole, The dount. “Why Was Scotchgard Discontinued?” Why Was Scotchgard Discontinued?, 20 Dec. 2022, http://www.thedonutwhole.com/why-was-scotchgard-discontinued.

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