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Washington StateThe Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Washington

A Partnership Network for Environmental Health
Established and Coordinated by the Institute for Children's Environmental Health

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Food & Fish

There are many chemical contaminants in food and fish, including pesticide residues, heavy metals, such as mercury, and other toxic substances.

Levels in different types of food and fish depend on many factors. Foods such as vegetables and grains, and fish that are lower on the food chain are likely to have lower levels of contaminants than foods like dairy products and meat that are higher on the food chain.

Approximately 80-99% of human exposure to most persistent toxic chemicals occurs from food, with air and drinking water contributing much smaller exposures.

You may also be interested in the webpages on Pesticides & Health and Body Burden.

Summary of Information on Washington State

From National Organizations:

The US Total Diet Study (TDS), sometimes called the Market Basket Study, has analyzed food samples from across the country for many years. The Study is managed by the Food and Drug Administration. More samples have been collected and analyzed from Washington State than from any other state. Samples from Washington were collected and analyzed in 1993 (Spokane), 1994 (Seattle), 1995 (Tacoma), and 2001 (Spokane).

The results in the TDS database are presented for each 'market basket' of samples analyzed and each 'market basket' comprises three locations in several states located close to each other (although not necessarily adjacent). Thus, data for Washington State are not separated out in the TDS database.

Using the TDS database and other information, the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) released a report called "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the US Food Supply" in 2001. The report found that a western US hypothetical daily meal plan can each deliver 66 exposures to persistent toxic chemicals per day.

The US Department of Agriculture Washington Agricultural Statistics Service has recent information (2004 and 2005) on "agricultural chemical use" in Washington State for a wide variety of food crops. It should be noted that useage data is quite different from information on pesticide residues.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) have completed a "Columbia River Basin Fish Contaminant Survey". This study estimated the cancer and non-cancer health effects from fish consumption and found that high fish consumers may face 50 times the cancer risk of the general public.

In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency published its "Asian and Pacific Islander Seafood Consumption Study". This study was conducted jointly with the University of Washington.

From State Organizations:

The Department of Ecology has a "Toxics Monitoring Program" that monitors levels of toxic chemicals in freshwater and freshwater fish. To date, only the reports for 2001 and 2002 are available.

In 2006, the Department of Health issued new "Waterbody Specific Fish Consumption Advisories". This website provides consumption advisories for eight locations, including Lake Chelan, Lake Roosevelt, Spokane River, Yakima River, Walla Walla River, Lake Washington, Lake Whatcom, and Puget Sound. The advisories are for a variety of contaminants including DDT, mercury, PCBs, and lead, and for a variety of species including walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, carp, lake trout and yellow perch. There is also a State-wide advisory for mercury in smallmouth and largemouth bass, and an advisory on consumption of canned tuna. There are also site-specific shellfish beach closures.

From Local Organizations:

In 1994, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission published a report on "A Fish Consumption Survey of the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Yakama, and Warm Springs Tribes of the Columbia River Basin".

From Academic Institutions:

Researchers at the University of Washington have conducted several studies related to pesticides in the diets of children, including:

One study looked at levels of contaminants in farmed salmon from different locations. Farmed salmon from Washington State had lower levels of organchlorines than farmed salmon from other locations, but farmed salmon generally had higher levels than wild salmon (Hites et al. “Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon.” Science. 2004 Jan 9;303(5655):226-9).


Information on Washington State in Context

There is very little information available on levels of contaminants in food in Washington State and in other states, so it is difficult to contextualize anything.

According to the report "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the US Food Supply", meal plans in the western US have the second highest number of exposures to persistent toxic chemicals:

  • Southeastern US 70 exposures
  • Western US 66 exposures
  • Northeastern US 64 exposures
  • Midwestern US 63 exposures


Quality of Information on Washington State

There is very little information available on levels of contaminants in food in Washington State. This is a significant gap, especially because food is a major exposure pathway for many toxic chemicals, as noted above.

There is more information available on levels of contaminants in fish. However, there is a need for more sampling locations, sampling of more species of fish, larger sample sizes, and analysis for a greater number of toxic chemicals. More information on contaminant levels in fish would be helpful to ascertain if there is a need for more fish consumption advisories and actions to reduce/eliminate the presence of toxics in the environment.


General Information Sources

US Total Diet Study:

Washington Agricultural Statistics Service:

Environmental Protection Agency:

Washington State Department of Ecology:

Washington State Department of Health: