March 3, 2010 -- Fish oil supplements are constantly touted for their seemingly miraculous health benefits because they contain omega 3 fatty acids. But a new lawsuit contends they may contain something else, too: PCBs, industrial chemicals that were banned back in the 1970s because they cause cancer and birth defects.
Beneath the surface of waterways like the Chesapeake Bay, small, filter fish ingest polychlorinated biphenyl compounds, or PCBs, that were deposited there decades ago by electrical plants and other polluters.
When environmental activists tested 10 different fish oil supplements, they say every one contained PCBs.
According to California law, people should not be exposed to more than 90 nanograms of this carcinogen a day. But the results of the activists' tests showed three of the 10 -- Nature Made Cod Liver Oil, and Now Foods' Salmon Oil and Double Strength Cod Liver Oil -- contained much more than that.
"The reason for the lawsuit is that people are being exposed to PCBs through these products and they're not being told," said David Roe, attorney for the plaintiff. Click here to visit the plaintiff's Web site, FishOilSafety.com.
Roe filed suit against eight fish oil producers and retailers, including CVS, GNC, Omega Protein and Rite Aid.
The industry is aware of possible PCB contamination, and some supplements come with labels saying PCBs have been removed.
The two supplements with the lowest overall PCB levels in the tests, Solgar Norwegian Cod Liver Oil and Twin Lab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, had only one-70th the amount of the supplements with highest levels.
"You can protect yourselves by shopping for the ones with the lowest levels," Roe said.
Companies Respond to Lawsuit
CVS, Rite Aid and Omega Protein all declined to comment on the lawsuit. Solgar didn't respond in time.
GNC, Now Health Group, Twin Lab and Pharmavite -- maker of Nature Made -- all said their fish oil supplements pass strict tests and comply with all state and federal laws.