A research team that tested trout in eight sites in Lakes Erie, Huron, and Ontario found an industrial chemical in almost all of the fish.
FBSA (perfluoro-1-butane sulfonamide) was discovered in 32 of 33 samples tested by researchers. The samples were low, parts per billion, but the chemical can be traced to products such as detergents and surfactants.
Robert Letcher, senior research scientist for Environment and Climate Change Canada and one of the study’s authors, was surprised to find the chemical in the trout.
“We were the first ever to find this compound in the environment—like to demonstrate its presence,” he says. “It’s never been reported before.”
Because the discovery is new, researchers aren’t sure if other chemicals are breaking down into FBSA or if the chemical is coming directly from products.
In addition, scientists don’t know what the chemical might do to the fish or people who eat the fish.
FBSA replaced a different chemical that companies were using: FOSA (perfluorooctane sulfonamide). FOSA, studies showed, was breaking down and building up in what scientists call the “food web.”
Initially, companies replaced FOSA with FBSA voluntarily. In 2006, the industry, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, agreed to phase out the use of FOSA and replace it with chemicals like FBSA.
“When a body of evidence—scientific evidence—builds up great enough to basically render a negative decision against a compound, and it gets regulated or what have you, companies phase these compounds out and they look for alternatives which to use that are safer, but also to serve their purpose,” Letcher says.
According to Letcher, scientists will now look at other species in the Great Lakes to see if FBSA is building up in other creatures in the “food web.”