Advance Notice: Briefs

FDA finds high PFAS levels in grocery store meat, seafood

By: - June 3, 2019 6:19 pm

Treated water from the PFAS plume underneath the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base flows into Van Etten Creek, where a “do not eat fish” advisory has been in place since 2012 | Michael Gerstein

The Food and Drug Administration found high levels of a toxic class of “forever chemicals” in some grocery store meat, seafood and other food products, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Unreleased FDA results showed the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the agency’s first-ever grocery store test of the compounds. The chemicals are commonly found in nonstick pans, furniture, clothing, cosmetics and other consumer goods.

AP obtained the results from the Washington-D.C. based Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Environmental Defense Fund, which acquired the data from a Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference last week in Helsinki, Finland.

Other foods, including dairy products, sweet potatoes, pineapples and leafy greens also were discovered to contain PFAS, according to the EWG.

The FDA found that almost half of the meat, fish and chocolate cake it tested contained at least twice the recommended federal advisory level of PFAS substances for drinking water, AP reported. FDA spokeswoman Tara Rabin told the AP that the contamination is “not likely to be a human health concern.”

The FDA tested food samples in eight states, including North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware and Kentucky.

PFAS map
The Environmental Working Group’s map of PFAS sites in Michigan and surrounding areas | Environmental Working Group

Such “forever chemicals” have raised alarm in Michigan and across the country. Michigan’s aggressive state testing has led environmental regulators to find more sites polluted with the substances than anywhere in the nation, according to a May report from the EWG.

The man-made chemicals take thousands of years to degrade and have been linked to certain kinds of cancer, liver problems and other adverse health effects. They bioaccumulate in humans.

The U.S. Air Force’s plodding approach to the pollution in Oscoda, where a former Air Force base contaminated the area with PFAS, has angered local residents who say they want faster action, as the Michigan Advance also reported.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has meanwhile issued weaker draft standards for toxic cleanup at hazardous waste sites, which could include military bases where PFAS were routinely used.

Michigan has set an April 2020 deadline to create an acceptable drinking water limit for two of the most prevalent chemicals in the class.

“So we found it in the water … now we’re finding it in the food,” said Sean Hammond, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC). “But for food it’s different because you’re not drinking eight glasses of particular food every day.”

The debate is ongoing as to whether diet or water may be a potentially bigger pathway to human exposure of PFAS substances, Hammond said. Although food with high levels of the chemicals is concerning, drinking water with low levels over a long period of time could be more harmful.

While the FDA has the most regulatory authority over Michigan’s food supply, the state also has a role to play — especially with more aggressive testing, Hammond said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.