Jul 7, 2022 - News

"Forever chemical" contaminants taint Tampa Bay oysters

oysters
Oysters sampled from Tampa Bay. Photo courtesy of Florida International University

You may want to think twice before slurping down oysters.

Driving the news: Researchers from Florida International University found toxic "forever chemical" contaminants in oysters from Tampa Bay, Biscayne Bay and Marco Island, according to findings released Wednesday.

  • FIU's Institute of Environment scientists detected the contaminants perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) and phthalate esters (PAEs) in 156 oysters sampled from the areas.

Why it matters: High PFAS levels can harm the body's immune system and cause issues like decreased fertility, high blood pressure in pregnant women, low birth weights, accelerated puberty, reduced vaccine response, hormonal interference and increased risk of some cancers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • "These contaminants pose serious health risks to people and wildlife, and the oysters prove they are in the water and have crept into the food chain," FIU researchers wrote in the study.

The big picture: Oysters are "the best sentinels" to show an ecosystem's health and contamination because of their existence as filter feeders, researchers wrote.

  • Because filter feeders eat the plankton and other nutrients suspended in the water, they absorb chemicals along with the nutrients they need.
a blackish looking oyster
An oyster sampled from Biscayne Bay. Photo courtesy of Florida International University

Zoom in: Tampa Bay oysters "indicated low risk from PFAS and PAEs exposure," compared to those from Biscayne Bay, which had the highest concentration of contaminants.

Zoom out: A previous FIU study found around 30 different PFAS in Miami, Broward and Palm Beach tap water, as well as in Biscayne Bay and nearby tributary canals.

What they're saying: The study's lead author, Leia Lemos, said the government should see these findings as a red flag.

  • "The biggest dream is that the government can see these results and create new ways to clean our water and protect our environment," Lemos said in the study.
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