‘Forever chemicals’ prompt new warning about eating fish from Minnesota stretch of Mississippi

Published 6:34 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

By Kirsti Marohn

State officials are recommending certain people avoid eating fish from two Twin Cities metro water bodies due to contamination from so-called “forever chemicals.”

The new recommendations apply to the Mississippi River from the Ford Dam in St. Paul to the Hastings dam, known as Pool 2, as well as Lake Rebecca near Hastings.

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The Minnesota Department of Health advises children under age 15, people who are or could become pregnant and those who are or plan to breastfeed to avoid eating fish from those water bodies. That’s because new data show a mixture of pollutants, including PFAS, in the fish.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of human-made chemicals widely used for decades that don’t break down in the environment. Some have been linked to negative health effects including cancer.

Pool 2 of the Mississippi River is home to an abundant fish population, including walleye, sauger, catfish and smallmouth bass, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Rebecca and Pool 2 already had fish consumption advisories for certain species due to contamination from mercury and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which have been detected in Minnesota fish for decades.

New data showing the presence of many types of PFAS prompted state officials to update the guidance, they said.

The recommendations apply only to high-risk populations at this time, said Dan Huff, assistant health commissioner, in a news release.

“It’s important to note that with PFAS, the risk is based on long-term exposure, not the kind of short-term exposure you might have from a few meals,” he said.

Huff noted that there are health benefits from eating fish, which are a low-fat protein source that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Alternative fishing spots in the Twin Cities metro without PFAS advisories include the Lower St. Croix River south of Stillwater, Lake Nokomis and White Bear Lake.

Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Environmental Research found that eating locally-caught freshwater fish could expose people to concerning levels of a “forever chemical” known as PFOS. The researchers found fish with detectable levels of PFAS in all 48 continental U.S. states. 

The Minnesota Department of Health previously issued fish consumption advisories for several Minnesota lakes because of levels of PFOS. They include Bde Maka Ska, Lake Elmo and Lake Harriet in the Twin Cities metro.