Dutch health institute concerned about PFAS levels in food, especially cod
A significant portion of the Dutch population is exposed to high levels of PFAS that can be unhealthy, according to a study released on Thursday by the Dutch public health institute (RIVM). The major source of exposure to these chemicals is through food, particularly fish consumption. Already a year ago, the RIVM warned about eating seafood from the Westerschelde area because of the high levels of PFAS found in seafood caught there.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals used in various products that resist heat, water, and oil. However, they pose environmental and health concerns due to their persistence and potential adverse effects on human health. These chemicals are difficult to degrade and have been associated with cancer, elevated cholesterol, and reproductive defects.
PFAS can be found almost everywhere in the environment and are used in a wide range of products, including food packaging, non-stick coatings, and waterproof clothing. Factories such as Chemours in Dordrecht and 3M in Antwerp released PFAS into rivers and emitted them into the air for many years.
The report revealed that the concentrations of PFAS ingested by people exceed the "health-based guidance value," which is the reference level used to assess potential health risks associated with exposure to a specific substance. That limit is intentionally set very low, so surpassing it does not immediately imply that everyone will eventually fall ill.
The average amount of PFAS ingested by individuals is approximately 40 percent lower than previously estimated. Nevertheless, RIVM expresses concern about the limit being exceeded, as prolonged exposure to excessively high concentrations can lead to health damage.
RIVM examined 54 food samples and found that cod had the highest levels of PFAS, followed by canned salmon and fish sticks. However, RIVM suggested that it is still advisable to consume fish once a week, as the Voedingscentrum recommends, due to its nutritional value, vitamins, and minerals. The researchers recommend consuming a variety of foods as a general strategy to limit PFAS ingestion.
According to the report, food accounts for over 70 percent of the substances ingested by individuals, while the remaining portion comes from other sources, including drinking water. Surface water contains the highest levels of PFAS. Although the concentrations are low, every little bit contributes to the total exposure. Most tap water in the Netherlands comes from groundwater, which is cleaner. RIVM advises people to keep drinking tap water in particular.
Regulations have become stricter in recent years, though. A total ban on the substances is in progress at the European level, but that may take years before it is achieved.
Reporting by ANP