PFAS Exposure From Seafood May be Underestimated

People who eat a diet high in seafood may have higher exposure to forever chemicals than previously thought, a study suggests.

The findings published in the journal Exposure and Health emphasize the need for more stringent public health guidelines that establish the safe amount of seafood to limit the exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS, dubbed as “forever chemicals”, are widely used, long-lasting chemicals that build up in our bodies, increasing the risk of various health problems, including infertility and cancer.

They are found in everyday products, such as plastics and nonstick coatings, water, air, and soil.

"Our recommendation isn't to not eat seafood—seafood is a great source of lean protein and omega fatty acids. But it also is a potentially underestimated source of PFAS exposure in humans," said Megan Romano, the study's corresponding author and an associate professor of epidemiology at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine.

The study combined an analysis of PFAS concentrations in fresh seafood with a survey of 1,829 New Hampshire residents about their eating habits. The state is among the country's top seafood consumers and was among the first to identify PFAS in drinking water.

Additionally, the study used extensive data from New Hampshire on the sources and effects of forever chemicals.

The researchers measured the levels of 26 varieties of PFAS in samples of the most consumed marine species: cod, haddock, lobster, salmon, scallop, shrimp, and tuna. The seafood studied was purchased fresh from a market in coastal New Hampshire and originated from various regions.

Shrimp and lobster had the highest concentrations of PFAS compounds, with averages ranging as high as 1.74 and 3.30 nanograms per gram of flesh, respectively.

Concentrations of individual PFAS in other fish and seafood are generally measured less than one nanogram per gram.

The survey on eating habits revealed men in New Hampshire consume just over one ounce of seafood daily, and women eat just under one ounce, over 1.5 times the national average for both.

Seafood is not the only food source of PFAS. A recent study associated tea, pork, and hot dogs, bread, soup broths, and bottled water with higher concentrations of forever chemicals in the blood. This was especially true for foods prepared in restaurants.

What are the risks of PFAS exposure?

Scientists are still working on understanding the full scope of the impact PFAS have on human health. Existing evidence suggests that exposure to "forever chemicals" may lead to:

  • Reproductive issues such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, such as low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Weakened ability of the immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Disruption of the body's natural hormones.
  • Raised cholesterol levels and the risk of obesity.

However, the study authors don't recommend ditching seafood, which is packed with important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B2.

Kathryn Crawford, the study's first author and an assistant professor of environmental studies at Middlebury College, said, "People who eat a balanced diet with more typical, moderate amounts of seafood should be able to enjoy the health benefits of seafood without excessive risk of PFAS exposure."

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