PFOS: The Danger of Eating Locally Caught Fish

If you’re interested in sustainability and health, locally caught fish might be on the menu. Fish are high in essential nutrients and vitamins. And when locally harvested (presumably caught by you), the associated carbon emissions are next to zero and freshness is unbeatable.

And if you’re anything like me, you might have dreams of slinking back from our capitalistic society, catching healthy stream-dwelling fish, and growing your own garden to preserve a bountiful harvest while you hermit away in an early retirement and let all your body hair grow out. (That can’t be just me, right?)

Well, there’s a little kink in our plans, friends.

A little kink known as ‘forever chemicals.’

pfas and pfos

PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a family of synthetic chemicals found in a myriad of household, commercial, and industrial products. PFOS is a member of this chemical group, and is present in soaring amounts in freshwater fish across the country.

what is the harm of pfos?

The biggest problem with PFOS? Let’s go back to that ‘forever chemical’ thing. PFAS, including PFOS, are long-lasting chemicals that bioaccumulate in the body and won’t break down or get flushed out quickly. It would take 25 years, with no exposure to new PFAS, to rid the body of existing contaminants. And the biggest problem is that they are unavoidable. Piling PFAS on top of PFAS can have some pretty serious health implications, compromising liver, immune and reproductive health, and even causing cancer. 

pfas and water regulations

Fish are especially susceptible to accumulating these chemicals because the PFAS family ultimately ends up in waterways, aquifers, and riparian ecosystems. 

In fact, in June 2022, the EPA updated water regulations after scientific evidence showed that PFAS levels near zero could be harmful to human health. Prior to the newly emerged science, the recommended allowance was 70 parts per trillion. But, with recognition that these health risks occur at much lower levelt, the advisory now stands at 0.02 parts per trillion.

It should be noted that although the drinking water advisory updates are important, this is not a new regulation. The advisory serves more as a guideline for water plant operators and municipalities to consider. So, your drinking water might be out of range of what is considered safe. 

why are pfos so prevalent in locally caught fish?

PFAS in our drinking water has received more attention than fish. But eating a single serving of contaminated locally caught fish exposes us to dangerously high amounts – the equivalent of drinking water with 48 parts per trillion for a month. Fish spend their life in contaminated water. Because these chemicals don’t break down, the fish accumulate the contaminants from their environment and whatever they eat. The PFAS accumulate in the fish and so on up the food chain, to us. 

What is so breath-stopping about the levels found in fish is that they are living examples of how these contaminants build up and make their way into our own bodies.

what is being done about pfos contamination?

The EPA has taken steps in the last year to address PFAS, including recommendations on how to reduce discharge into waterways, proposing designation of two highly used PFAS as hazardous substances, employing a national testing strategy to measure toxicity in products from PFAS manufacturers, adding five more PFAS to a list for contaminated site cleanups, expanding monitoring of PFAS in drinking water, as well as working alongside the Biden administration and offering $1 billion in grants to disadvantaged communities to address PFAS in their drinking water. This coincides with $6.6 billion governmental funding set aside for drinking water upgrades.

To learn more about freshwater fish and PFOS, check out the study. And if you are hoping to fish for food, check with your local or state hunting and fishing departments for any advisories. Also, EWG has created an interactive map to show measured PFAS and PFOS across the United States. View it here.

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