Fact Sheet: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in Fish

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are commercially produced substances that are used as flame retardants in a wide variety of consumer products. PBDEs can be found in the environment all over the world. Based on current knowledge of these substances, the levels of PBDEs found in foods, such as fish, do not pose a risk to human health.

However, the presence of low levels of PBDEs in human breast milk and blood indicates that people are being exposed to these compounds, which are persistent in the environment. The release of PBDEs into the environment can occur during their production, use and/or disposal. Although data on levels of PBDEs in the environment are somewhat limited, available information indicates that the main sources of PBDE exposure to humans appears to be through food, human breast milk and dust.

PBDEs and Food Safety

Health Canada has been monitoring contaminant levels in foods sold in Canada for many years, and will continue to conduct food monitoring and risk assessment activities related to PBDEs and other environmental contaminants as part of the Department's ongoing commitment to the safety of Canada's food supply.

Health Canada has recently conducted a fish and seafood survey and found that PBDE levels in the sampled fish and seafood products were low, and did not exceed 5.5 parts per billion. Health Canada has considered the potential risk to human health, based on the reported levels of PBDEs in fish and seafood, available toxicological information and estimated dietary fish and seafood consumption. While there is some limited evidence suggesting that the concentrations of PBDEs may be higher in farmed fish and seafood products, Health Canada's opinion is that the current levels found in any retail food are not considered to be a health concern. Health Canada will continue to update the health risk assessment for PBDEs as more data becomes available.

What is Health Canada's advice?

Fish and seafood are rich in many essential nutrients including protein. Oily fish, such as mackerel, herring and salmon, are sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish such as salmon, turbot, channel catfish, whitefish and rainbow trout are also excellent sources of vitamin D. Halibut, flounder, sole, rockfish, shrimp, swordfish, tuna, haddock, salmon and oysters are rich in selenium and oysters and crabs in zinc. Clams and oysters are very high in iron.

Given the known benefits of eating fish, and the conclusion that the reported levels of PBDEs in fish and seafood, both farmed and wild, are not considered to pose a risk to human health, Health Canada advises that fish continues to be healthy food choice for Canadians.

For more information on PBDEs and the work the Government of Canada is doing in this area please view the fact sheet on PBDEs.

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