'Forever chemicals' are now found in most fruit and vegetables


Are you a pescatarian? You should be concerned about forever chemicals, too.

All those news stories about "forever chemicals" showing up in your food? There's more where they came from.

Before you take your next bite of a strawberry, a tomato, or seafood, think long and hard about the chance that your bite could contain a pesticide. Two new research studies reveal that ’forever chemicals’ are now in half of your fruits and vegetables, and also in fish, shellfish, and other common foods. 

Forever chemicals – aka PFAS – are a huge, extended family of nearly 10,000 chemicals. They’re known as “forever chemicals” because they have the capacity to survive across the entire environmental landscape and build up in the blood, bones and tissue of humans and living organisms.

PFAS are typically found in things like carpets, furniture upholstery, and other fabrics that may have stain-resistant coatings, as well as water-resistant clothing such as rain jackets. They can also be found in plastic food packaging and cooking products, such as non-stick cookware which leads to them winding up in a person’s diet. 

In the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) study, researchers discovered 10 different PFAS (forever chemicals) pesticides present in spices and a range of fruit and vegetables including grapes, cherries, spinach, and tomatoes. Strawberries were found to be the worst offenders, with 95% of the 120 samples tested containing PFAS pesticides.


Go fish?

In a separate Dartmouth College-led study, the findings suggest that people who regularly eat seafood may face an increased risk of exposure to PFAS, too.

The study was built around the 26 varieties of PFAS found in samples of the most consumed seafood and shellfish: cod, haddock, lobster, salmon, scallop, shrimp, and tuna. The seafood that was studied was purchased fresh from a market in coastal New Hampshire and originated from various regions.

And a lot of people eat a lot of seafood, too. Among adults, 95% reported consuming seafood within the last year and shrimp, haddock, salmon, and canned tuna were most frequently consumed. High seafood consumers may be exposed to PFAS concentrations that pose a health risk, based on the PFAS hazard quotients, the researchers reported.

Why is this important?

“Given the growing body of evidence linking PFAS to serious diseases such as cancer, it is deeply worrying that … consumers are being left with no choice but to ingest these chemicals, some of which may remain in their bodies long into the future,” Nick Mole from PAN UK said. 

But, cancer is not the only health concern. Mole went on to say that PFAS exposure has been linked to decreases in both fertility and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. Childhood exposure to PFAS has also been linked to behavioral changes in children and developmental delays, including low birth weight and premature puberty.

On the seafood side of the PFAS menu, “Our recommendation isn’t to not eat seafood—seafood is a great source of lean protein and omega fatty acids,” says Megan Romano, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Geisel School of Medicine and the study’s corresponding author.

“But it also is a potentially underestimated source of PFAS exposure in humans. 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.”

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