Forge Pond, Peconic River, October 2022. Photo: Peter Blasl

Contamination of fish in portions of the Peconic River by the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS prompted the New York State Health Department this week to warn the public to limit consumption of fish caught in those areas.

The advisories pertain to fish caught in Peconic River between Peconic Lake dam and Edwards Avenue dam in Calverton, including the waters of Peconic Lake and Forge Pond.

Women under age 50 who may bear children and children under age 15 should not eat Yellow Perch caught in the advisory area of the Peconic, according to the advisory. Everyone else should limit consumption of Yellow Perch from those waters to no more than one meal per month, the Department of Health said.

All people should limit consumption of all other types of fish caught in the advisory area to no more than four meals per month. This is the recommended limit for all fish caught in all freshwaters on Long Island unless a lower limit is advised.

PFAS — shorthand for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are synthetic chemicals used for a variety or purposes in many different industrial processes and consumer products. The chemical compounds are among the most persistent in existence – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time — and contaminate everything from drinking water to food, food packaging and personal care products, according to according to scientists. They are found in the blood of virtually everyone, including newborn babies.

The U.S. Navy during its ongoing investigation and clean-up of soil and groundwater contamination at the former Grumman plant in Calverton has documented at least four types of PFAS chemical plumes that have migrated off-site in a southeasterly direction and tracked to the shores of the Peconic River, just west of the area subject to the updated fish consumption health advisories.

The Navy has been aware of PFAS contamination of groundwater along the southern boundary of the facility, known as the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) since at least 2016.

High levels of PFAS contamination of soil and groundwater have been documented at a large number of locations throughout the former Grumman site, much of which is still owned by the Town of Riverhead, which took title to the site from the Navy in 1998, while other parts of the site are owned by private businesses. The Navy recently disclosed the detection of PFAS contamination at higher levels and in more locations than was previously made public.

MORE COVERAGE: More PFAS contamination detected inside the Calverton Enterprise Park, Navy investigators say

According to the Navy, groundwater flow is generally southeast from most parts of the site where PFAS and other chemical contamination has been documented.

There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects, including immune system suppression, increased risk of certain cancers, increased cholesterol levels, reproductive and developmental problems and reduced vaccine efficacy.

New York State has a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per trillion for PFAS in drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, currently has no maximum contaminant level but has proposed a 4 parts per trillion MCL for PFAS. The public comment period for the proposed rule is open until May 30.

MORE COVERAGE: Federal environmental agency proposes national drinking water standards for PFAS

Because the chemicals are persistent and accumulate over time, they can accumulate in fish — and levels in fish can be many times greater than levels found in the water they live in.

The State Health Department advisories are based on annual fish contamination monitoring conducted throughout the state by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Each year, the State DEC performs several thousand chemical analyses on more than 1,000 fish samples, the health department said. The health department did not release the data upon which the advisories were based.

PFAS contamination of fish also resulted in new advisories for fish caught in Carmans River, above Southaven Park dam. The health department said children and women who may bear children should not eat American Eel taken from the area and should limit consumption of all other fish caught there to one meal per month.

Other chemical contaminants prompted advisories for Fresh Pond, Hither Hills State Park in Montauk (mercury) and Spring Lake, Middle Island (chlordane). See the full list of Long Island freshwater fish 2023 advisories.

While fish are an important part of a healthy diet, both freshwater and saltwater fish may contain chemicals at levels that may be harmful to humans.

People who become pregnant and eat highly contaminated fish may be at a higher risk of having children with developmental or learning delays, the State Health Department said in a press release announcing the updated advisories. Children who eat a lot of contaminated fish may also have potential for negative effects on their development and long-term health, the agency said. In contrast, older adults may face fewer health risks from these chemicals, so the advice encourages them to enjoy eating these sport-caught fish more frequently.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published guidelines for eating fish for women who might become or are pregnant or breastfeeding and children under age 12. See chart below. AdviceAboutEatingFish-MainPDF-2021-10-26-1025

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