About PCBs and other Persistent Organic Pollutants

PCBs and their chemical cousins (dioxins and furans) belong to a class of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which includes certain pesticides (organochlorines) and fire retardants (organobromides).

Unlike organic compounds from natural sources, POPs are synthetic (manmade) organic compounds that resist chemical degradation and can “bioaccumulate” in animals near the top of the ocean food chain, such as fish. They also accumulate in beef, pork, poultry, milk, and butter.

The species we sell are less likely to accumulate POPs, either because they are naturally short-lived and eat fairly low in the food chain (salmon, cod, sablefish, and shellfish) or because we pick only younger, smaller members of longer-lived species (halibut and tuna).

What are PCBs?
Wild Alaskan salmon are extremely low in PCBs, as are all Vital Choice seafood.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are oily mixtures of up to 209 individual chlorinated industrial chemicals (congeners), which include dioxins and furans. PCBs can harm health and were banned in the U.S. in 1977 because they persist in the environment.

PCBs accumulate in the fat of long-lived animals and ones that live in especially contaminated environments. The main food sources* of PCBs are butter and other fatty dairy products, long-lived predatory ocean fish, sport fish from contaminated lakes or rivers, and meats.

As is the case with mercury, our fish are inherently low in PCBs and other “persistent organic pollutants” (e.g., dioxins and furans), either because they are naturally short-lived or because we pick only younger, smaller members of longer-lived species (e.g., halibut and tuna). The traces of PCBs in wild salmon are so minuscule that, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, it is completely safe to enjoy these fish freely and frequently.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation monitors levels of PCBs and other persistent organic pollutants in Alaskan seafood. As the agency reported in 2008, “Levels of PCBs measured in Alaska fish are far below those measured in fish from other parts of the world.”

Specifically, the levels of PCBs in wild Alaskan and Canadian salmon – one to 12 parts per billion – are 1,000 times lower than the safety limit of 2 parts per million set both by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the U.S. FDA. (To learn more, see our About PCBs page.)

The levels of dioxins and furans detected in wild Alaskan and Canadian salmon are very low, averaging less than three parts per trillion.

Likewise, wild Alaskan salmon and other wild Alaskan species are very low (0.1 to 0.5 parts per billion) in fire retardants (organobromides).

Farmed salmon: Higher in PCBs and inflammatory fats Farmed Salmon contain 10 to 20 times more PCBs than wild salmon. This is because they are fed diets higher in fat, hence higher in PCBs, too.

Even the substantially higher PCB levels in farmed Salmon fall very far short of the FDA safety limit.

But, together with an inferior fatty acid profile – unnaturally high in omega-6 fats, which compete with omega-3s, and saturated fats – their higher PCB levels explain why many health experts consider farmed salmon significantly less healthful than wild Salmon.

*Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Food safety and PCBs found in fish. January 12, 2004.

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