State testing for PFAS in fish tissue conducted over the past year found the toxic chemicals in every sample it tested, the Department of Energy and Environment said Friday.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of thousands of chemicals found in everything from the packaging of the food we eat to the fabric of the clothes we wear.
Studies suggest that PFAS increase the risk of cancer, threaten children’s reproductive health and development, weaken the immune system, and more.
Here’s what you need to know about the state’s findings:
What are PFAS?
Because of their widespread use over the past 80 years, experts have found PFAS in Kentucky’s water, soil and wildlife. They have also been found in human blood.
PFASs were found at 36 of 40 surface water sampling stations by the Kentucky Department of Water, as well as up and down hundreds of miles of the Ohio River, which provides drinking water for more than 5 million Americans, in a 2021 study .of the Ohio River Valley Sanitary Water Commission.
The Kentucky Department of Water also found PFAS in 41 of 81 drinking water sources sampled in 2019.
And another study published in August suggests that rainwater is unsafe to drink anywhere in the world due to chemical contamination.
Because of their resistance to natural degradation, PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals.” Scientists have been working to find the “Achilles heel” of toxic substances to prevent them from contaminating the environment for decades.
What does this mean for Kentucky fish advisories?
In recent sampling efforts conducted over the past year by the state Department of Environmental Protection, PFASs were found in every fish tissue sample out of 98.
Sampling was conducted in various streams and lakes in the state, including Pond Creek in southern Jefferson County and the Okolona area.
But Kentucky already has fish consumption advisories for every body of water in the state because of the widespread presence of mercury.
Despite the new information in the PFAS sampling report, which found PFAS up to 49.7 parts per billion in fish tissue, state officials suggest Kentuckians continue to follow existing guidelines found on the Department of Fish and Resources website at The wild nature.
“We believe that the mercury-based consumption guidelines that are being proposed, particularly for sensitive populations, are reasonable and reasonable,” Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said.
According to the guidelines, women of childbearing age and children age 6 or younger should have no more than six meals per year of predatory fish, no more than one meal per month of anglerfish and demersal fish, and no more than one meal per week fish in the “other fish” category.
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For the general population: no more than one meal per month of predatory fish and no more than one meal per week of marine and bottom-feeding fish.
Kentucky regulators follow EPA guidance on PFAS rules, and the EPA has only issued guidelines, not strict regulations, regarding PFAS in fish tissue or water more generally.
What’s next for PFAS?
The state plans to do additional PFAS testing and noted that the new fish tissue report represents only a small portion of the state.
The report comes just weeks after the EPA announced its intention to label PFAS as hazardous substances, a designation that would categorize them under the Superfund program and help hold polluters accountable.
Several other countries have already issued advisories on PFAS fish consumption.
The EPA is also in the process of establishing maximum contaminant levels for PFAS in drinking water.
State regulators and water utilities are holding their breath for these new rules, which could have major implications for public health and water treatment processes.
“In my 32 years, I don’t know if I’ve ever faced a bigger problem than PFAS, which it looks like it’s going to be,” John Lyons, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Energy and Environment, told a conference on drinking water and clean water Advisory Board meeting earlier this year.
Connor Giffin is an environmental reporter for The Courier Journal and a corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on unreported issues. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @giffin_connor.