State Publishes Fish Testing Report on PFAS Levels

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency working on regulations, understanding risk

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Sept. 9, 2022) – While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works on regulations and understanding the human risk levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in surface water, drinking water and fish, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, as some other states have done, today published fish tissue PFAS levels.

The cabinet’s Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) will continue to test for PFAS in Kentucky and communicate reports and consumption guidance to Kentuckians.

PFAS are a large group of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used for decades in the United States and in other countries. Studies have shown that people can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated drinking water, food or food packaging, as well as stain-repellent carpets and upholstery, nonstick cookware and water-repellent clothing and gear. High levels of PFAS exposure over a lifetime are associated with a wide range of human health effects.

Fish Testing
The DEP caught and sampled fish from Gunpowder Creek in Boone County, South Elkhorn Creek in Woodford County, West Hickman Creek in Jessamine County, Otter Creek in Meade County, a tributary of North Elkhorn Creek in Fayette County and Northern Ditch and Southern Ditch (also known as Pond Creek) in Jefferson County between 2021-22.

The department also in early 2022 tested fish tissue previously collected from 13 lakes: Boltz Lake, Lake Carnico, Cave Run Lake, Cedar Creek Lake, Elmer Davis Lake, Fagan Branch Lake, Guist Creek Lake, Herrington Lake, Liberty City Lake, Sand Creek Lake, Shanty Hollow Lake, South Lake as well as W FK Drakes Reservoir.

The fish tissue sampled showed perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a chemical in the PFAS group, at levels that ranged between 0.31 and 50 parts per billion (ppb). Sixteen other PFAS were detected at concentrations of 18 ppb or less.

Fish species collected and tested included largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, rainbow trout, bluegill, green sunfish and longear sunfish. The full report can be found HERE.

“As other states wrestle with these same issues, our agency thought it important to make these results known to the public so that they could make healthy choices when eating locally caught fish,” said Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman. “We believe that the mercury-based consumption guidelines that are suggested, especially for sensitive populations, are reasonable and prudent.

“It is important to note that this study covers only a small portion of the state’s waters. The cabinet will continue to make additional information available as additional testing is done.”

Staff from the DEP, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Department for Public Health work together to develop and implement consumption advisories for fish in the state. Fish consumption guidance, including recommended consumption thresholds for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is available on the Division of Water and Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources webpages.

While the 2022 Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide was printed before this latest guidance related to PFAS, State officials recommend:

  • Citizens follow existing statewide fish consumption guidance for mercury and other site-specific advisories.
  • The general population eat no more than one meal per month of predatory fish and no more than one meal per week of panfish and bottom feeder fish.
  • Sensitive populations, such as women of childbearing age, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and women who plan to become pregnant, eat no more than six meals per year of predatory fish and no more than one meal per month of panfish and bottom feeder fish.

Fish are an important nutritional food so the public should consider a variety of sources, including locally caught fish, store-bought fish, and fish available at dining establishments. 

Find frequently asked questions regarding the testing of PFAS in fish here.

While the EPA does not have water or fish tissue standards for PFAS, it recently issued interim lifetime health advisories for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and PFOS in drinking water that reduced their previous advisory levels. The current EPA health advisory for PFOA is 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOS is 0.02 ppt. The EPA also issued final lifetime health advisories for two other types of PFAS, PFBS and GenX. The health advisory level for PFBS is 2,000 ppt and GenX is 10 ppt.

The EPA is in the process of establishing regulatory maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFAS compounds in drinking water. Additional details of the agency’s overall strategy regarding PFAS can be found in the PFAS Strategic Roadmap (2021).

State Drinking Water Testing
The DEP began testing state waters for PFAS in 2019 by sampling drinking water from 81 community public drinking water treatment plants across the state. Results from that study are summarized in this report, available on the Division of Water’s PFAS webpage. In 2020, DEP collected and analyzed water samples from 40 surface water locations statewide. Results from that study also are available.