Eating one wild fish is the same as drinking contaminated water for a month, study says

Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP

Canned fish may actually be healthier than a fresh catch, according to new research, which reveals wild freshwater fish contain far more toxic “forever chemicals” than their commercial counterparts.

Researchers examined over 500 locally sourced fish samples from across the United States, inspecting them for the chemicals, technically known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Research.

PFAS is an umbrella term for thousands of manufactured compounds that don’t break down naturally and have detrimental health effects. They’re used in food packaging, cleaning products and water-resistant material, like rain jackets, and have seeped into the soil, water and air.

The study showed that freshwater fish with detectable levels of PFAS were found in all continental U.S. states and that the average fish had 278 times more PFAS than commercially tested fish.

Because of these high concentrations of toxic chemicals, researchers concluded that consuming one wild fish is the equivalent of drinking a month’s worth of contaminated water. In fact, even a single serving of freshwater fish per year significantly increases PFAS levels in a person’s bloodstream, according to the study.

While fish were found with high levels of “forever chemicals” in almost every state, those caught in urban areas and the Great Lakes region had above average levels of PFAS, researchers said. Marine fish, by contrast, tend to have lower levels of the chemicals, according to at least one study.

The findings are not likely to affect the majority of Americans as just 5% of fish consumed nationally are locally sourced, according to the study. However, those who regularly fish for sustenance, including outdoor enthusiasts and various indigenous communities, are the most likely to be affected.

Exposure and ingestion of PFAS has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers and decreased immune function, among other health concerns, according to the CDC.

“These are murderous chemicals,” Terrence Collins, professor in green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, previously told McClatchy News. “We are harming every living thing in the biosphere with (them).”

In recent years, some states, including Massachusetts and Michigan, have issued PFAS guidelines, advising residents on how to minimize exposure to the toxic chemicals found in fish.

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