Michigan Researchers Find Every River Fish They Test Contains 'Forever Chemicals'

“It just demonstrates how ubiquitous these chemicals are in the environment,” one researcher said.

A Michigan environmental nonprofit tested freshwater fish caught around the state and found that all of them contained substances often called “forever chemicals,” according to a press release published Thursday.

“It just demonstrates how ubiquitous these chemicals are in the environment,” Erica Bloom, toxics campaign director at the Ecology Center, told the Guardian.

The chemicals detected were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — a group of manufactured chemicals that break down at an extremely slow rate, meaning they can accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body. PFAS are often used in manufacturing and are also present in a slew of consumer goods, including nonstick cookware, stain repellents and food packaging, among others.

The Environmental Protection Agency warns that “exposure to certain levels of PFAS” may lead to health issues in humans that can include reproductive problems, developmental delay, hormone interference and cancer.

In Michigan, the Ecology Center worked with local anglers to catch 100 fish from 15 sites along the state’s Huron and Rouge rivers. Researchers tested 12 different species of commonly consumed fish, including bluegill, smallmouth bass and river chub.

Bluegill were among the species of fish tested in Michigan.
Bluegill were among the species of fish tested in Michigan.
Jennifer Idol/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

Fourteen different PFAS chemicals were detected, with a range of 11,000 to 133,000 parts per trillion. One chemical in particular, known as PFOS, was found in every fish.

Michigan issues a “do not eat” advisory when PFOS levels reach 300,000 parts per trillion. However, the EPA’s recommended limit for PFOS in drinking water is 0.02 parts per trillion — which, the Guardian notes, indicates that almost no amount is considered safe to consume.

The Ecology Center wants Michigan not only to make its PFOS advisory guidelines stricter, but also to establish guidelines for other PFAS chemicals.

The new results are in line with an unaffiliated study published by the scientific journal Environmental Research in December. That report said freshwater fish consumption is “likely a significant source of exposure” to PFOS. Fish in the Great Lakes and urban areas were found to have especially high levels of contamination.

“You’d have to drink an incredible amount of water — we estimate a month of contaminated water — to get the same exposure as you would from a single serving of freshwater fish,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group who co-authored the December study, told CNN.

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