Excessive PFAS Levels in Freshwater Fish

You may want to think twice before serving up a dinner of freshly caught fish these days. Freshwater fish have been found to be contaminated with dangerous levels of the PFAS* chemical known as “PFOS”. In fact, a new study by Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists found that consumption of just a single serving of freshwater fish per year could be equal to a month of drinking water laced with the PFAS forever chemical “PFOS” at high levels that may be harmful…

Lab testing

“The researchers analyzed data from more than 500 samples of fish fillets collected in the U.S. from 2013 to 2015 under monitoring programs by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Rivers and Streams Assessment and the Great Lakes Human Health Fish Fillet Tissue Study.”

PFAS in feshwater fish map


“The median level of total PFAS in fish fillets was 9,500 nanograms per kilogram, with a median level of 11,800 nanograms per kilogram in the Great Lakes…EWG found the median amounts of PFAS in freshwater fish were an astounding 280 times greater than forever chemicals detected in some commercially caught and sold fish. The testing data, from the EPA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), showed that consuming a single meal of freshwater fish could lead to similar PFAS exposure as ingesting store-bought fish every day for a year…National EPA tests show nearly all fish in U.S. rivers and streams are contaminated with PFAS** in the parts-per-billion range – even greater than parts per trillion.

“The PFAS forever chemical found at greatest concentrations in freshwater fish was PFOS (formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard commonly used on upholstered furniture, clothing and carpeting) averaging roughly three in four of total PFAS detections.  Consumption of PFOS-contaminated freshwater fish can cause significant increases in peoples’ blood serum levels of the PFAS forever chemical, creating potential health risks. Even infrequent consumption of freshwater fish can raise PFOS levels in the body.”

In summary, the levels of PFOS found in freshwater fish often exceeded an astounding 8,000 parts per trillion. By comparison, the EPA has allowed only 70 parts per trillion of PFOS in the nation’s drinking water. And due to growing health concerns, in 2022 the EPA recommended the allowable level of PFOS in drinking water be lowered from 70 to 0.02 parts per trillion.

*PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. They are comprised of approximately 12,000 compounds. They are ubiquitous in the U.S., appearing in thousands of consumer and industrial products and are typically used to make products resist water, stains and heat, including household products (like carpeting, curtains, furniture upholstery, waterproof and stain-resistant flooring, etc.), cooking supplies (including cooking utensils and bake ware), clothing, personal care products (like cosmetics, including waterproof mascara) and even food (PFAS appears in processed food packaging for humans and pets) and public drinking water (tap water) that affects an estimated 2 million Americans. PFAS chemicals are usually found in products labeled “stain-proof” and “waterproof”.  PFAS chemicals also appear in fire-fighting foam and other industrial products used at airports and military bases across the country, where the chemicals have leached into the groundwater. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment or human body.  PFAS chemicals have been linked in scientific and medical studies to a variety of serious health conditions including cancer (including testicular cancers), kidney disease, heart disease, thyroid problems, reproductive problems, endocrine problems (PFAS has been found to disrupt hormonal functions with some research suggesting that the PFAS chemicals are linked to accelerated ovarian aging, period irregularities and ovarian disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome) and liver problems. Some newer PFAS have been found to accumulate in organs, so in some cases, science simply cannot detect the toxic chemicals when testing for it in blood.

**EWG researchers estimate there may be more than 40,000 industrial polluters of PFAS in the U.S. Tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants, airports, and sites where PFAS-containing firefighting foams have been used are potential sources of PFAS discharges into surface water. This contamination of water has spread PFAS to soil, crops and wildlife, including fish. (source).

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Also see our report: PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ found in Tuna, Fish Sticks, Protein Powder and Baby Food, says FDA

man in gray t shirt typing on laptop

For more information on the scientific findings about PFAS chemicals and their adverse health effects, go to any article in our Chemical Watch Blog, scroll to the Search box at the bottom and type in “PFAS”. You can also contact us and we will do a search of our internal database of scientific articles for you.

Journal reference:  Barbo, N., et al. Locally caught freshwater fish across the United States are likely a significant source of exposure to PFOS and other perfluorinated compounds. Environmental Research Journal, Volume 220, 1 March 2023, 115165. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2022.115165   Study.