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Jun 21, 2008 06:27 AM

Sardines and PCBs

Hi all,

Does anyone know which canned sardines are lowest in PCBs?

Grateful for any/all info.

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  1. Sardines have the least pcb's of any fish, if any. The fish don't live long enough to pick up a lot of junk in their short lives. If you wade through these threads, there are links along the way about how safe sardines are to eat

    The Great Sardine Taste-off - the Sardine Saga continues (cans 31-39)

    From Seafood Choices Alliance:

    "The KidSafe Seafood program recommends sardines. They are sufficiently low in mercury and PCBs to be safe for children age three and up to eat at least once a week. "

    My guess if this is a concern for you would to be to look out on the can for where the fish were harvested ... that is harvested ... not packed. Often it is two different areas.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks, rworange.

      However, I quote from the original "great sardine taste-off thread":

      "depending on where they are caught some sardines are high in pcbs."

      Just wondering if anyone knows which areas of the world's oceans are the most clean. Sigh, what a world that such questions need be asked.

      1. re: sardinefan

        Ah, you deserve to know just for reading all that ... even I won't re-read it and forgot. When I was doing a quick Google, it seems most think the pcb's are low in sardines due to short life-cycle, though there are occasional mentions of high pcbs. Didin't look too closely, but there was some study on Spanish sardines ... can't remember if it was the males or females that picked up fewer pcbs ... and there was something about mating season that upped the fat in sardines and since that is where the pcbs accumulate, the pcb level.

        1. re: rworange

          Sardines are not at the top of food chain like tuna so they do not accumulate PCB's....

    2. Thank you, rworange and Pollo.

      I quote from an article posted on re safe fish consumption:

      Though low in mercury, this fatty fish contains high levels of other toxins.

      Nutritional overview: Sardines (Atlantic, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 2 sardines [24g]
      ) Based on a 3.5 ounce serving
      Calories: 206.25
      Protein: 24.5g
      Total Fat: 11.3g
      Omega-3s: 2.3 grams

      Toxic Topline
      Sardines have their own paradox: very high in calcium due to their bones, rich in Omega-3s, low in mercury — but high in PCBs and other toxins.
      Consumption recommendation: The Environmental Working Group suggests avoiding sardines due to the high level of toxins.


      Who to believe?

      1. And now over to the Environmental Working Group:

        "According to the guidelines, to limit their intake of PCBs, women and children should eat no more than 1 to 2 servings per month of salmon, sardines, herring and bluefish."

        I give up. There's nothing left to eat.

        4 Replies
        1. re: sardinefan

          Discouraging. I'm afraid to even look for specific studies on North Sea herring...the new catch just came in here and I'd like just a few guilt-free moments with my little buddies...

          1. re: sardinefan

            Unless they actually show how the data was generated this kind of info is worth as much as last year's be polite....

            1. re: Pollo

              Which is why I posted the original question in the first place... wondering if anyone has concrete information.

              There is this study, which suggests that, in a sampling of Spanish fish, "Tuna, hake, and sardine were the species with the highest contribution [of PCDD/PCDFs and PCBs]."

              ...and there are other studies like this as well.

              1. re: sardinefan

                Like I said before...unless you know how the study was conducted (details) that kind of abstract information is useless....

          2. It looks like Pacific caught sardines and anchovies have high levels fo PCBs and DDT:


            1 Reply
            1. re: nwgirl

              This 2007 US Govt study of fish caught off California says sardines had 3 parts per billion of PCBs. The PCB level was below the limit set for wildlife exposure, meaning it was safe for wildlife to eat the sardines. And the Pacific sardines studied were the longlived variety (3 to 7 years) vs. the short life of most tinned sardines.

              This coastal California area was especially studied because it had known high levels of DDT and PCB pollution. Sardines from elsewhere are presumably much lower in PCBs.

              This study was done in 2007. It is called CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS IN PELAGIC FORAGE

              Enjoy your sardines!

            2. There's both good and bad information in this thread. First, PCBs can accumulate in virtually any animals, and some plants - it doesn't matter where they are on the food chain, although it is true that, in general, all things being equal, species higher on the foodchain have greater exposure due to biomagnification, and older fish will have higher contaminant concentrations than younger fish because of the longer exposure time.

              Of much greater importance is the lipid (fat) content of the fish - as non-polar organic contaminants, PCBs partition virtually exclusively into lipids, so (again, all things being equal) fatty fish will have higher levels than lean fish. Sardines are comparatively fatty fish, so they have the potential to bioaccumulate PCBs, and other lipophilic contaminants, to a greater extent than leaner species with similar exposure. Note that in the 2007 Southern California Bight study Pacific sardines are mentioned as living from a few to several years - that's not all that short-lived and certainly gives them time to come into near-equilibrium with whatever concentrations they're being exposed to. At the PCB hazardous waste site that I've worked at for the last decade, fish hatched in any given year (so called "young-of-the-year") essentially reach equilibrium within that year and then remain in equilibrium throughout their lives.

              With respect to PCBs, it's very difficult to provide a simple answer to the question of whether it's safe to eat sardines, and in what quantity, because there's really no way of knowing the PCB content of the food that's on the market shelves. The current FDA action level of 2.0 mg/kg ww (parts per million, wet weight) is laughable, bordering on criminal - my recommendation is that anyone who's eating sardines or anything else with that concentration of PCBs should put their affairs in order. At the other extreme, the 3.0 parts per billion cited in the 2007 SCB study, approximately 1,000 times less than the FDA action level, is almost certainly safe for regular consumption. (I would not regard that study to be representative of sardines in general, however.) In between . . . well, as the concentration of PCBs increases, the risk of getting cancer due to consuming sardines increases (the so-called linear low dose response model used to calculate these types of risks doesn't really have a "zero" risk, though the real response may well have some sort of threshold), perhaps to something on the order of one excess cancer in 10,000 people, which would be considered a rate at a hazardous waste site at which action would be taken to remediate the problem. However, it's good to remember that 4,000 of those people are going to get cancer even if they never eat a sardine, so we're talking about an increase, for example, of from 4,000 to 4,001, which is comparatively small in the statistical sense (but not if you're the one person, obviously).

              I have a colleague who is highly regarded internationally for his knowledge of the factors that contribute to human health risk. He limits himself to one fish meal of any kind per week. That's probably a reasonably prudent thing to do.

              2 Replies
                1. re: FlyFish

                  Dear FlyFish,

                  THANK YOU. I wish you would write to Tara Parker-Pope and share your knowledge with her, or at least cross-post your informative response at the New York Times site.

                  After reading her blog, I asked my question there too (see comment #6), and no one seemed to know much of anything.


                  Thanks again.