“These perch aren’t for eating any longer, there’s too much PCB (a synthetic organic chemical compound of chlorine) and PFOS (a man-made fluorosurfactant and global pollutant) in them. So the municipality put up signs that say not to eat them,” explains recreational fisher Einar Olsson, showing a fish he’s just pulled up from waters in Rosersberg, outside Stockholm.
It was last spring that Livsmedelsverket (the Swedish National Food Agency) detected poisonous industrial chemicals from fire foam, among other things, in the water that 3.4 million Swedes get their drinking water from. It appears that Sweden’s most common freshwater fish may also be getting poisoned by so-called perfluorinated alkyl acids. The chemicals are stored in the body, and if a person consumes fish or drinks water with high levels of the chemicals, the risk of affecting their liver or thyroid or immune systems increases, and it may cause hormonal disorders and various diseases.

“It’s very sad that the story is repeating itself. It began with DDT, PCB, brominated flame retardants and other toxins. Putting out chemicals before one understands how they react in an environment seems unnecessary,” says Emma Halldin Ankarberg, toxicologist at Livsmedelsverket. Since the alkyl acids aren’t included in the environmental control program, nobody knows how widespread they are. In connection with the discovery last spring, Livsmedelsverket urged all Swedish municipalities to take water samples. Now the authority advises fishermen to check with local authorities if samples have been taken of the chemicals in the local waters. “We hope the municipalities deal with this,” Ankarberg says. She claims, however, that one shouldn’t worry about eating freshwater fish in Sweden. “Children, for instance a 12-year-old, can eat such fish one to three times a week.” But if you eat lots of fish from contaminated lakes during a longer period of time, the risk increases. “If you live close to a lake or an airport or a place for fire drills, you should contact the municipality and ask them to come and measure the fish. It is unlikely the levels are that high, but if you do consume fish from such a lake, it is worthwhile to find out what the levels are,” Ankarberg concludes.