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Persistent Pollutants

Elevated PFOA levels detected in canned clams

Company voluntarily recalls one product manufactured in China

by Britt E. Erickson
July 8, 2022


a can of opened clams on a wooden board.
Credit: Shutterstock
The US Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid in canned smoked clams made in China.

The US Food and Drug Administration has detected perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in 10 samples of canned smoked clams from China. Two of the samples contained about 20 ppb PFOA, which the FDA says is likely a health concern.

The agency released the results July 6, prompting Bumble Bee Foods to voluntarily recall smoked clams from a third-party manufacturer in China.

A recall from another distributor is imminent, the FDA says.

The FDA has not established a safe level for PFOA in food. Last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency set a health advisory level of 0.004 parts per trillion for PFOA in drinking water. The chemical is no longer produced in the US because of concerns about its toxicity.

PFOA is one of the most toxic of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The chemical is associated with developmental and immunological effects, altered liver function, and certain cancers, according to the FDA. PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals found in numerous consumer and industrial products. The compounds are slow to break down, and they accumulate in the environment and in people.

To understand the occurrence of PFAS in seafood, the FDA tested 81 samples purchased from US retailers, including clams, cod, crab, pollock, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and tuna. Most of the seafood was imported into the US. The FDA detected other types of PFAS besides PFOA in the clams, but those levels are not likely to be a health concern, the agency says. Likewise, the agency detected some PFAS in cod, crab, and tuna, but it is not concerned about the levels.

The FDA plans to test additional samples of both imported and domestic clams, including canned and fresh, to better understand the extent of PFOA contamination.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy organization, has long urged the EPA to regulate industrial discharges of PFAS into water. “Toxic PFAS can bioaccumulate in mollusks like canned clams, as well as in other seafood people eat, such as fish,” EWG senior scientist David Andrews says in a statement. “Thousands of companies discharge their PFAS wastes into rivers, lakes and bays, where seafood can become contaminated.”



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