MIAMI – A Florida International University study looking at the presence of toxic “forever chemicals” in Florida oysters found that oysters from Biscayne Bay contained the highest concentration of contaminants among three sites researchers tested.
The “forever chemicals,” perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and phthalate esters (PAEs), are found in myriad industrial and consumer products, from cosmetics, to packaging, clothing, toys and more.
According to a university news release, scientists from FIU’s Institute of Environment sampled 156 oysters from Biscayne Bay, Marco Island and Tampa Bay and found contaminants in every single one. Biscayne Bay oysters, despite being among the smallest of those sampled, contained the highest concentration of chemicals.
FIU researcher Leila Lemos found this “somewhat surprising,” the release said, because the more time oysters have to grow, the more time they have to accumulate toxic chemicals.
“Tampa Bay oysters were among the largest in the study, but they didn’t have nearly the amount of PFAS or PAEs as the tinier Biscayne Bay oysters,” the news release states. “This means Biscayne Bay could be so contaminated, the oysters are bombarded with such high concentrations they accumulate contaminants more quickly.”
Lemos said it’s likely the contaminants are interfering with the oysters’ growth.
“As filter-feeders, oysters are among the best sentinels and can reveal a lot about the overall health of an ecosystem including levels of contamination,” the news release said, calling the findings a “red flag” for areas like Biscayne Bay.
FIU called the health risk “low” but noted the study only looked at a small selection of compounds and did not account for the risks of consuming other marine life living in the same areas.
Lemos noted that there are other exposure paths for PFAS and PAEs, like drinking water.
“(S)tudies have found association between PAE exposure and diabetes, obesity, allergies and asthma, as well as impacts to reproductive health, immune function and more,” the news release said, while noting that PFAS chemicals are “known to impact reproduction and human development, immune system functioning, interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines, as well as cause liver and kidney damage.”
Last month, the EPA issued new, stricter drinking water health advisories for PFAS chemicals.
“To date, PFAS have not been widely studied in Florida,” the FIU news release said. “New data will help inform possible solutions and new regulations to start to remove them from the environment.”
FIU’s findings were recently published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment.”