Health Department: Limit amount of Lake Superior fish eaten

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is urging people to eat no more than one...
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is urging people to eat no more than one serving of ‘smelt’ per month due to potentially elevated levels of PFOS chemicals in the meat.(KOLO)
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 4:47 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2022 at 9:05 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - A health department warning may mean it’s time to throw out some of that locally-sourced fish.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is continuing to recommend that people eat no more than one serving of ‘smelt’ per month due to potentially elevated levels of PFOS chemicals in the meat. MDHHS Eat Safe Fish guidelines define one serving as eight ounces for adults and four ounces for children.

Smelt is a very commonly found food source. They’re small, silvery fish that are often served on their own pan-fried in flour and butter or deep-fried in batter. In North America, smelt is usually eaten in the northern United States and in Canada.

The fish may have elevated levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a perfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS).

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PFAS, sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” tend to not break down and to stay in the human body indefinitely. They have been connected to various health issues including some cancers, liver damage and decreased fertility. PFAS have been used to make products since the 1950s, including things like non-stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, some cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

The guidelines are a precaution that was first issued by MDHHS on March 24 of 2021, after data shared by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) that showed elevated PFOS in Lake Superior rainbow smelt. MDHHS chose to match WDNR’s guidance and issued a consumption guideline as a precautionary measure, recommending the guideline stay in effect until there was enough data to reevaluate.

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The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy along with other partners then collected smelt from several locations in Lake Superior and its related watershed. Early results from MDHHS PFAS analysis indicate that PFOS levels in smelt collected in Michigan are similar to smelt collected in Wisconsin.

Analysis of the smelt for other contaminants of concern is still underway.

Until all data is available, MDHHS is recommending that the guideline of one serving per month remain in place for smelt from Lake Superior.

Department officials say that when all data is available they will update the guidelines for smelt.

More information is available at the Eat Safe Fish program website at Michigan.gov/eatsafefish.

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