Fish and chips with a side of PLASTIC: British fish contain ‘concerning’ levels of cancer-causing chemicals from food packaging – and experts say eating them more than twice a YEAR is dangerous

  • Chemicals known as PFAS have been found at dangerous levels in British fish
  • They were found in flounder, dab and plaice in the Thames, Mersey and Wyre
  • Experts say the UK should have environmental standards on more types of PFAS

It’s a favourite dish for many Britons across the country, but fish and chips could soon be off the menu – if a new study is anything to go by. 

Scientists have found ‘concerning’ levels of cancer-causing chemicals in seveal popular British fish, including plaice.

In the study, a team with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) tested 53 samples of fish living in rivers across England for contamination.

Species with high levels of the dangerous chemicals were flounder, dab and plaice, which ingest the chemicals while swimming in the Thames, Mersey and Wyre.

Worryingly, some samples were so badly contaminated that eating a portion more than twice a year would be deemed unsafe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

It’s a favourite dish for many Brits across the country, but fish and chips could soon be off the menu – if a new study is anything to go by

Species with the highest levels of PFAS include flounder (pictured), dab and plaice, which ingest them while swimming in the Thames, Mersey and Wyre

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – or PFAS – have many uses in society, but have also been linked to cancer and other health conditions.

WHAT ARE PFAS? 

PFAS are manmade chemicals used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets, and textiles.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not break down when they are released into the environment, and they continue to accumulate over time.

PFAS chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies near facilities where the chemicals are used.

PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities as well as military bases and firefighting training facilities where foam containing PFAS is used.

They also enter the food supply through food packaging materials and contaminated soil.

There are about 12,000 PFAS in existence which have many uses, including in packaging, firefighting foams, the non-stick coatings on frying pans and textiles.

They were first developed in the 1940s, but since then many scientific tests have linked the synthetic chemicals to health problems.

These include infertility, behavioural problems, birth defects, high cholesterol levels and even various cancers, including kidney, testicular and ovarian.

Despite many manufacturers phasing them out of their products, they are still routinely detected all around us.

Their longevity is thanks to a bond they contain between carbon and fluorine atoms that nothing in nature can break.

PFAS are thought to get into the environment through industrial emissions, transfer from packaging, wastewater and evaporation from the foams. 

The extra-strong carbon-fluorine bond means they can pass through most water treatment systems completely unharmed, as well as into the bloodstream.

Some types are known to bioaccumulate through the food chain, with top predators like whales and sharks receiving the highest dosage. 

PFAS are found in the blood of virtually everyone, including newborn babies.

For the study, journalists at Watershed Investigations collated Cefsa data on the level of PFAS in samples of dab, flounder and plaice taken across England.

They were detected at levels of up to 52.1 micrograms per kilogram, which was found in a flounder taken from the Thames at Woolwich.

An average, a 12 stone (75 kg) adult who eats a 0.4 pound (170 g) portion of this fish more than once every five months would exceed the safe PFAS threshold set by the EFSA.

Despite many manufacturers phasing them out of their products, PFAS are still routinely detected all around us. Their longevity is thanks to a bond they all contain between carbon and fluorine atoms that nothing in nature can break

Dr Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University, says that ‘you wouldn’t want to catch the fish and eat it if you lived along the Thames on a regular basis based on what we know about human exposure’ (stock image)

At the moment, two types –  PFOS and PFOA – are known to build up in humans and are linked to health problems, and these are both regulated in the UK.

However, Dr David Megson, an environmental chemist at Manchester Metropolitan University, says they are unlikely to be the only ones.

He said: ‘At the moment we don’t have enough information to confirm what is safe and what is posing a problem.

‘From looking at most PFAS you would assume they are toxic and bioaccumulative. 

‘I would prefer us to follow the precautionary principle and only use them where they are proven to be safe and pose no risk to the environment.

‘Instead it seems like we are assuming they are all safe for use and we have to wait decades before we confirm that they have significantly damaged our environment and human health.’

Indeed, Dr Ian Cousins, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University, says that ‘you wouldn’t want to catch the fish and eat it if you lived along the Thames on a regular basis based on what we know about human exposure.’

He believes that achieving standards of environmental quality in urban rivers is ‘not really possible’, given how persistent PFAS are.

However, a ‘sensible approach’ would be to regulate PFAS together as one class – something that has already been proposed in the EU.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that it has ‘taken action to increase monitoring’ of PFAS since the 2000s.

The government department also supports a ban of PFAS, or the implementation of restrictions on specific types.

‘We continue to work with regulators to further understand the risks of PFAS and implement measures to address them,’ they added.

In January, a study revealed that eating just one freshwater fish caught in the USA a year is the equivalent to drinking water containing PFAS for a month.

Dr Janine Gray, head of science and policy at WildFish, said: ‘The significant concentrations of PFAS found in fish is very concerning but not surprising, and unfortunately just the tip of the chemical iceberg.

‘Today, more than 350,000 regulated chemicals are in use. Our waters and their wildlife are exposed to a wide range of these, yet our rivers are currently only routinely checked for 45.

‘We must ban all but the most vital uses of PFAS forever chemicals and policy must account for the additive/synergistic effects of chemical mixtures on aquatic life.’

Interactive map reveals ‘forever chemicals’ are in blood of animals on nearly every continent 

Cancer-causing chemicals are now in the blood of animals on nearly every continent on Earth, an eye-opening ‘first-of-its-kind’ map has revealed.

The ‘sobering’ analysis lays bare the extent to which toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are likely poisoning creatures the world over, having already been linked to liver disease, cancer, kidney stress, foetal complications and other serious health problems in humans.

Known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down, types of PFAS have been found in horses, dogs, Siberian tigers, pandas, sea lions, wild boar, otters and even oysters.

Read more here 

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