LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



In 13 state parks, Mass. officials issue advisories for fish consumption due to PFAS

Walden Pond beach in Concord, Mass in 2019. (John Greim/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Walden Pond beach in Concord, Mass in 2019. (John Greim/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is warning residents to be careful when eating fish caught in 13 state parks.

Testing over the past year revealed elevated levels of PFAS chemicals, technically known as per- and polyfluorinated substances, in certain fish. Health officials recommended avoiding some species from the tested sites and limiting consumption of others. Stocked fish, the advisories said, remain safe to eat.

"We've been waiting for this," said Wendy Heiger-Bernays, a clinical professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health. "It's really about limiting your exposure to fish caught in waterways in Massachusetts. I think it's another recognition that these chemicals are everywhere and they're pervasive."

PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals" because they take a long time break down in the environment, are widely used in consumer products. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health concerns, including kidney cancer, thyroid disruptions and reduced immune response to childhood vaccinations.

Massachusetts has some of the strictest regulations for PFAS in public drinking water supplies. And experts said individuals can take additional steps to avoid eating and breathing PFAS chemicals.

For years, PFAS have been known to accumulate in fish when they swim and live in contaminated water. A recent report found concerning levels of PFAS in freshwater fish around the country. However, the data suggested that PFAS levels are lower in fish bought at the store.

The new Massachusetts advisories vary depending on the body of water, the type of fish and the person consuming it. For example, children under 12 and people who might become pregnant were advised to be more cautious than the general public. The 13 water bodies covered by the new fish consumption advisories are:

  • Ashland Reservoir
  • Chicopee Reservoir
  • Lake Cochituate in Natick
  • Dennison Lake in Winchendon
  • Dunn Pond in Gardner
  • Fearing Pond in Plymouth
  • Houghtons Pond in Milton
  • Pearce Lake in Saugus
  • Pequot Pond in Westfield
  • Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester
  • Walden Pond in Concord
  • Wallum Lake in Douglas
  • Watsons Pond in Taunton

In a press release, state health officials said they “prioritized the testing of fish and surface water" in these areas because they are popular locations for swimming and fishing. They are also in or near "Environmental Justice Populations," where officials have determined that the burden of disease and exposure to sources of pollution are greatest.

Public health officials said they found elevated PFAS levels in fish at all 13 locations where testing was conducted. But they said the areas remain safe for swimming and other recreational activities.

Marc Nascarella, state toxicologist at the Department of Public Health, said state and federal environmental agencies are also testing bodies of water for PFAS. And residents can request that specific ponds or lakes be tested.

"It's a bit of a Swiss cheese approach to ensure that the surface water bodies are safe," said Nascarella.

He urged young children and pregnant people to avoid eating fish from any bodies of water that haven't been tested due to the prevalence of these chemicals in the environment.

"On two separate years, sort of back to back years, the health department has been surveilling fish for PFAS and, in both years, we found PFAS in all the fish that we have tested," he said.

The advisories were released during the EPA's National Fish Forum, which has been dominated by news about PFAS.

However, Heiger-Bernays said, "it will be necessary for the Department of Public Health to do some significant outreach" to make sure those impacted by the new fish consumption advisories are aware of them.

Nascarella said the agency is doing outreach. And health officials said they have recommended that the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation partner with local health departments to publicize the information.

Barbara Moran contributed reporting to this story.


Gabrielle Emanuel Twitter Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.



Listen Live