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Fish caught in the fresh waters of the nation’s streams and rivers and in the Great Lakes contain dangerously high levels of PFOS, short for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, a known synthetic toxin phased out by the federal government, according to a US Environmental Agency data study. USA. Protection Agency.
The PFOS chemical is part of a family of manufactured additives known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have been widely used since the 1950s to make consumer products non-stick and resistant to stains, water and grease.
Dubbed “eternal chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment, PFAS have seeped into the nation’s drinking water through public water systems and private wells. The chemicals then build up in the bodies of fish, shellfish, livestock, dairy products and game animals that people eat, experts say.
“PFOS levels found in freshwater fish often exceed a staggering 8,000 parts per trillion,” said study co-author David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization that analyzed the data. The report was published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research.
By comparison, the EPA only allowed 70 parts per trillion of PFOS in the nation’s drinking water. Due to growing health concerns, in 2022 the EPA recommended that the permitted level of PFOS in drinking water be reduced from 70 to 0.02 parts per trillion.
“You would have to drink an incredible amount of water – we estimate a month of contaminated water – to get the same exposure from a single serving of freshwater fish,” Andrews said.
“Consume even a single (locally captured fresh water) fish per year can measurably and significantly change blood levels of PFOS,” said Andrews.
PFAS family chemicals are linked to high cholesterol, cancer and several chronic diseases, as well as a limited antibody response to vaccines in adults and children, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
“This is an important paper,” said toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.
“Finding this level of contamination in fish across the country, even in areas not close to industry where you can expect heavy contamination, is very concerning. These chemicals are everywhere,” she said.
Read more: Doctors should test PFAS levels in high-risk people, report says
It’s nearly impossible to avoid PFAS, experts say. Manufacturers add the chemicals to thousands of products including non-stick cookware, cell phones, carpeting, clothing, makeup, furniture and food packaging.
A 2020 investigation found PFAS in the packaging of many fast foods and “environmentally friendly” molded fiber bowls and containers.
A 2021 study found PFAS in 52% of cosmetics tested, with the highest levels in waterproof mascara (82%), foundation (63%) and long-lasting lipstick (62%). Polytetrafluoroethylene, the coating on nonstick cookware, was the most common additive.
Read more: Makeup May Contain Potentially Toxic Chemicals Called PFAS, Study Finds
In fact, PFAS chemicals were found in the blood serum of 98% of Americans, according to a 2019 report using data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
“These chemicals are ubiquitous in the American environment. More than 2,800 communities across the US, including all 50 states and two territories, have documented PFAS contamination,” Dr. Ned Calonge, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health and chairman of the Academies committee that wrote the report, told CNN earlier.
Read more: Hazardous chemicals found in food packaging at leading fast-food restaurants and supermarket chains, report says
Environmental Working Group scientists used data from EPA’s own monitoring programs – the National River and Stream Assessment, which has been periodically testing stream conditions since 2008, and the Greater Human Health Fish Fillet Tissue Study Lagos, which tests lake water every five years.
“The analysis focused on wild fish caught by the EPA in rivers, streams, and the Great Lakes from 2013 to 2015, as that was the most recent data available,” Andrews said.
Contamination was widespread, affecting “almost every fish in the country,” he said. “I believe there was one sample with no detectable levels of PFOS.”
The EWG created an interactive results map with details for each state. Fish caught near urban areas contained nearly three times more PFOS and PFAS overall than those caught in non-urban locations, the study found. The highest levels were found in fish from the Great Lakes.
Analysis showed that PFOS were responsible for an average of 74% of contamination in fish. The remaining 25% was a mix of other PFAS known to be equally harmful to human health, Andrews said.
CNN reached out to the EPA for comment, but did not hear back before this story was published.
Based on the study’s findings, people who fish for sport might “strongly” consider releasing their catch rather than taking the fish home for a meal, Andrews said.
However, many people in lower socioeconomic groups, indigenous peoples and immigrants in the US depend on eating fresh fish.
“They need it to feed themselves or because it’s their culture,” Birnbaum said. “There are Native American tribes and Burmese and other immigrants who fish because they are who they are. This is fundamental to their culture. And you can’t just tell them not to fish.”
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The predominant chemical in fish, PFOS, and its sibling perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, are known as “long-chain” PFAS, made up of an 8-carbon chain.
Read more: Plastics and pesticides: Health impacts of synthetic chemicals in US products have doubled in past 5 years, study finds
Manufacturers agreed in the early 2000s to voluntarily stop using Long-chain PFAS in US consumer products, although they can still be found in some imported items. Due to growing health concerns, the use of PFOS and PFOA in food packaging was phased out in 2016 by the US Food and Drug Administration.
However, the industry has reworked the chemicals into 4- and 6-carbon chains – today there are more than 9,000 different PFAS, according to the CDC. Experts say these newer versions seem to have many of the same hazardous health effects like the 8-chain PFAS, leaving consumers and the environment still at risk.
Many of these longer-chain PFAS can be stored for years in different organs in the human body, according to the National Academies report. Scientists are examining the impact of newer versions.
“Some of these chemicals have half-lives in the five-year range,” Jane Hoppin, a National Academies committee member, an environmental epidemiologist and director of the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told CNN. .
Read more: FDA must do more to regulate thousands of chemicals added to your food, petitioners say
“Say you have 10 nanograms of PFAS in your body right now. Even without additional exposure, five years from now you would still be 5 nanograms,” she said. “Five years later you would be 2.5 and five years after that you would be 1.25 nanograms. It would take about 25 years before all the PFAS left your body.”
That’s why it’s “no surprise” to find such high levels of PFOA in freshwater fish, said NYU Langone Health Director of Environmental Pediatrics Dr. Leonardo Trasande, who did not participate in the new study.
“These are really ‘eternal chemicals,’” Trasande said. “It reinforces the reality that we need to get all PFAS out of consumer products and people’s lives.”
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