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New Englanders, with their love of seafood, may be at higher risk for PFAS exposure

Seafood samples are displayed at the 2024 Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, the United States, March 10, 2024.
Ziyu Julian Zhu
Xinhua via Getty Images
Seafood samples are displayed at the 2024 Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, the United States, March 10, 2024.

A study from Dartmouth found that higher consumption of seafood is linked to a higher risk of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure. While the study looked specifically at people in New Hampshire, New Englanders are likely at higher risk because a legacy of PFAS pollution exists alongside a cultural preference for fish.

Researchers analyzed PFAS concentrations in fresh seafood with a statewide survey of eating habits in New Hampshire. National nutrition surveys have found that New Hampshire and all of New England are among the top consumers of seafood nationally, making New Hampshire ideal for researchers to learn more about the extent of people’s exposure to PFAS through fish and shellfish in saltwater.

“Basically, New Hampshire is a kind of case study that quantifies seafood consumption, particularly in a New England state, in order to estimate the potential risk of PFAS exposure that may come from very frequently consuming marine seafood,” Megan Romano, corresponding author and associate professor of epidemiology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, said.

She said the findings, published in the journal Exposure and Health, make a case for setting PFAS limits on seafood, not to stop eating seafood.

"Understanding this risk-benefit trade-off for seafood consumption is important for people making decisions about diet, especially for vulnerable populations such as pregnant people and children," Romano said.

“New Hampshire was among the first states to identify PFAS in drinking water, according to Jonathan Petali, the study’s co-author and a toxicologist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“We're a data-rich state due to years spent investigating the impacts of PFAS and trying to mitigate exposure,” he said.

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.

They found shrimp and lobster to contain the highest concentrations of PFAS with averages ranging as high as 1.74 and 3.30 nanograms per gram of flesh for certain PFAS compounds. Concentrations of individual PFAS in other fish and seafood measured less than one nanogram per gram.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the nation’s first limits on PFAS in drinking water Thursday.

“Drinking water contaminated with PFAS has plagued communities across this country for too long,” Michael S. Regan, administrator of the EPA, said in a statement. “ Our PFAS Strategic Roadmap marshals the full breadth of EPA’s authority and resources to protect people from these harmful forever chemicals.”

Studies have shown that women with exposure to PFAS may be at higher risk of higher blood pressure, and people with PFAS exposure may have increases in cholesterol levels, decreases in birth weight, lower antibody response to vaccines, kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia and changes in liver enzymes.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.