Chemicals taint Biscayne Bay oysters. What FIU study says about our drinking water safety

Unlike some spots in the state, the oysters found in Biscayne Bay aren’t good for eating — they’re typically too scarce, too small and too tainted with pollution to be safe. But for researchers at Florida International University, the shellfish that grow in the briny bay also can serve an important and counter-intuitive purpose. They’re actually indicators of the safety of fresh drinking water pumped from Miami-Dade’s wells into household taps. A newly published FIU study of oysters in three coastal Florida areas — Miami-Dade, Tampa and Naples — found they were contaminated with potentially harmful chemicals known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. And Biscayne Bay’s shellfish had, by far, the highest levels of what are also known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS include thousands of man-made chemicals used in everything from nonstick pans to fast-food packaging to waterproofed clothing to fire-fighting foams. Though research is ongoing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says high exposures have been linked to different types of cancers, thyroid issues and disruption to the reproductive system. These chemicals have bled into drinking water in every state, and experts say nearly everyone has been exposed to at least some PFAS. Miami-Dade doesn’t tap the salty bay for drinking water, of course, but researchers say the oyster study still serve are an indicator of PFAS in the local water supply. The FIU study also echoes multiple previous studies and testing that have detected high levels of contamination in some wells. This chart indicates the levels of various polluting PFAS found in various oysters across Florida, as well as graphic representations of potential sources of the chemicals. The oysters in Biscayne Bay were, by far, the most contaminated. FIU

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