Bad News For Chesapeake Bay Seafood Lovers

Above photo: Chemicals in Chesapeake rockfish are linked to birth defects and cancers.

Rockfish, crabs, and oysters are highly contaminated with PFAS.

Testing done in October 2020 showed rockfish containing 23,100 parts per trillion (ppt) of a variety of per-and-poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) , crabs containing 6,650 ppt, and oysters having 2,070 ppt of the toxins. See the results here. The rockfish was caught in Cornfield Harbor in the Potomac River and the oyster and crab were collected from St. Inigoes Creek in Saint Mary’s County.  Public health officials say people should not be consuming more than 1 part per trillion of these toxins per day.

The seafood was taken from waters that are close to the Webster Outlying Field of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station where the chemicals were used in firefighting exercises over many years. The findings are alarming because the Department of Defense reports greater use of PFAS at several much larger military installations throughout the Chesapeake watershed.   A seafood platter containing oysters, crab, and rockfish with these levels of toxins is a danger to public health, especially for women who may be pregnant.

How bad is it?

​A meal of pan-fried rockfish may weigh 8 ounces or 227 grams.  If the filet of the fish contains 23,100 ppt of PFAS chemicals, that’s 23.1 parts per billion, which is the same as 23.1 nanograms per gram.  So, 23.1 ng/g x 227 g = 5,244 ng of PFAS chemicals.

In the arguably criminally negligent and pathetic absence of federal and state regulation in the U.S., we can look to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for guidance, although many public health officials say their PFAS levels are dangerously high. Even so, the Europeans are way ahead of the U.S. in protecting public health from the ravages of these chemicals.

The EFSA has set a Tolerable Weekly Intake (TWI) at 4.4 nanograms per kilogram of body weight. (4.4 ng/kg/week) for PFAS chemicals in food.  So, according to this guideline, an adult weighing 150 pounds (68 kilos) can “safely” consume 300 nanograms per week (ng/wk) [68 x 4.4] of PFAS chemicals.

One meal of Chesapeake rockfish containing 5,244 ng of PFAS is more than 17 times greater than the European weekly limit for an individual weighing 150 pounds.

If we abide by the more responsible 1 ppt daily limit championed by the Harvard School of Public Health, Northeastern University, or the Environmental Working Group, we would be limited to ingesting one rockfish every 14 years.

Don’t eat Maryland rockfish.

Take care of the watermen

In 1999, Maryland launched a tobacco program to reimburse tobacco farmers for their losses. Smoking tobacco is linked to cancer.  Likewise, the state must take care of its watermen. The fish are their livelihood and the fish have been poisoned. It isn’t the fishermen’s wrongdoing. In fact,  Maryland owes a debt of gratitude to them for the work and dedication they have shown to the state and the watershed.

Like the rockfish, people should stop eating Maryland crabs and oysters unless and until they are tested by an independent lab and shown to be PFAS-free. The state cannot be trusted to do this.

A recent “PFAS Pilot Study” by the Maryland Department of the Environment concluded that although PFAS is present in the tidal waters of the St. Mary’s River, the concentrations are “significantly below risk based recreational use screening criteria and oyster consumption site-specific screening criteria.”  While the report makes these broad conclusions, the analytical methods and basis for the screening criteria used by MDE are questionable, resulting in misleading the public and providing a deceptive, false sense of safety.

Special thanks to Leila Kaplus Marcovici, Esq., a practicing patent attorney and volunteer with the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter.

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