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Fish oil is often hailed for its seemingly miraculous health benefits, due to its containing Omega-3 fatty acids. People have used it to protect against heart disease and certain cancers, to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and to improve vision. Fish oil is also known to aid in brain function.  


But, as of March 2, lawsuits have been filed against eight companies that manufacture and sell fish oil. The plaintiffs claim that they did not disclose the presence of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) in their products, which is illegal.  At low levels—less than 90 nanograms a day—warnings do not need to be placed on labels, according to California law. But the levels of PCB found in the defendants products surpassed this limit.  


PCB was manufactured in the late 1920’s as a safe option to insulate and cool industrial transformers and capacitors. It continued to be used heavily in the U.S. for the next five decades, until 1979 when Congress placed a ban on domestic production, as a response to concerns over environmental pollution from companies disposing of the chemical into rivers, lakes, and oceans. And as inhabitants of these biospheres, fish also became contaminated. Thus, the problem of PCB in fish oil.


The most notable symptoms of PCB exposure are rashes and chloracne (an acne-like breakout of blackheads, cysts and pustules). Studies have shown that workers exposed to PCB experience changes in blood and urine—both are signs of liver damage—and may be linked to liver and biliary tract cancers. In 1968, 14,000 people in Japan were poisoned by contaminated rice brain oil used to feed chickens. Many studies have also shown the toxic effect of PCB during fetal maturation, causing reproductive damage to infants. 


That is why some companies choose to treat their fish oil before selling it, removing or drastically reducing the amount of PCB within it.  “Consumers who want the health benefits of fish oil shouldn’t also have to take the health risks of an extremely toxic man-made chemical,” said David Roe, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “And they don’t have to, since preliminary test results show that some fish oil brands have only 1/70th as much PCB contamination in them as others.”


The lawsuit names eight corporations that have illegally not disclosed the amount of PCB in their fish oil.  The list of defendants includes: CVS Pharmacy, Inc.; General Nutrition Corp. (GNC); Now Health Group, Inc.; Omega Protein, Inc.; Pharmavite LLC (Nature Made brand); Rite Aid Corp.; Solgar, Inc.; and TwinLab Corp.


More companies may be named in the following weeks, as the plaintiffs will continue testing fish oils for elevated levels of PCB.














 / Issue 113 - September 2220
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