WAFF 48 Investigates: Waterways possibly poisoned with chemicals - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Waterways possibly poisoned with chemicals


Thousands upon thousands of Alabamians take advantage of our lakes, rivers, and streams to get away from it all.

But getting away may be getting you into much more than you ever could have imagined.

WAFF 48 News investigated area waterways poisoned with chemicals, and just how serious the risk is from eating what you catch.

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor activities on the Tennessee River in Decatur.

"Get out of the house and enjoy yourself," said one local fisherman. 

But if you're not catching and releasing, you could be putting yourself in harm's way. 

WAFF 48 News obtained a copy of the Alabama Department of Public Health's annual fishing advisories.

The fish in this area are currently being monitored for perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS.

"There's so much uncertainty regarding this chemical that it was better to air on the side of caution," said ADPH's John Guarisco.

Guarisco chalks that uncertainty up to new research on what PFOS actually does to the human body. 

"Nobody knows if it even causes cancer,” said Guarisco. “There's a suggestion that it might."

So what is PFOS? According to Guarisco, it's a chemical compound used in everyday equipment like fire retardant foam, Teflon pots, and even rain gear.  And state testing shows it's now at high levels in the Decatur fish. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is looking into the cause, but the levels are so high the state has to order fisherman to limit their consumption to one fish a month. That's right. A single fish a month.

So you'd think that's something the state would alert the public to, right? Wrong. You won't find any signs posted. The state does have it listed on their website but you'll have to do a little digging to find it. And that's why it should come as no surprise that when we spoke to local fishermen about it, they had no idea what we were talking about.

"This is not a law. This is not a regulation or anything like that,” said Guarisco. “This is just a recommendation. We can only recommend that you not eat a fish."

And the Decatur area isn't the only one the state is monitoring. Our investigation also found more than a dozen other bodies of water in north Alabama that the health department has placed advisories on.

"Something needs to be done about it,” said Debbie Epps-Upton. WAFF 48 News spoke to Epps-Upton as she sat on a picnic table next to the Tennessee River in Decatur and watched more than a dozen fisherman with poles in the water. 

“Too many people do eat the fish that they catch," said Epps-Upton.

Testing is still on-going but the numbers in Decatur are showing a downward trend. However, the area remains on the advisory list for the third straight year.

"It's in the anglers best interest to see what the advisory is," said Guarisco.  

And that may be putting it lightly. WAFF 48 News uncovered an EPA fact sheet that says Epidemiologic studies have shown an association between PFOS exposure and bladder cancer; however, further research and analysis are needed to understand this association. 

The public has nothing to be concerned about with the drinking water. WAFF 48 News spoke to Decatur Utilities who said there is nothing to worry about because the water comes from a different area upstream from where the state has issued the fish advisory.

To see the current Fish Advisories, click here

More PFOS information is located here.

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