Gillian Zaharias working in the Healthy Stuff Lab

Healthy Stuff Lab

PFAS in Fish Report
A Community-Based Study on PFAS in Fish
The Great Lakes have always been special to the people and wildlife who know these waters as home. The inland lakes, rivers, and streams that flow into the Great Lakes are important ecosystems and are critical parts of our communities.

It’s why when the state of Michigan issued a Do Not Eat the Fish advisory in 2018 for parts of the Huron River everyone who used the river wanted answers. People questioned what the advisory meant for fishing and recreation, which fish species and fishing locations were contaminated, and what exactly were PFAS.

PFAS are everywhere in the Great Lakes watersheds and have been found in many species, including algae, amphipods, zebra mussels, round gobies, chinook salmon, lake trout, whitefish, smallmouth bass, carp, mink, eagles, frogs, and snapping turtles. These “forever chemicals” are linked to certain types of cancers, reproductive harm, and reduced vaccine effectiveness.

The Healthy Stuff Lab researches toxic chemicals found in our everyday environments

Healthy Stuff Lab is a scientific research project of the Ecology Center. Our team of scientists conducts research and tests consumer products, air, soil, water, fish, food and more for toxic chemicals. 

Exposure to toxic chemicals disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations in our society including people of color, low-income, elderly, children, and pregnant women. These populations may face cumulative exposures throughout their lifetimes. They should not bear this toxic burden when we know that safer chemicals exist. 

Our stance is a simple one: Toxic chemicals have no place in our everyday products or our natural environment. Retailers and manufactures have a role to play in driving the market toward safer alternatives.

The Healthy Stuff team works with impacted communities, community-based organizations, researchers and advocacy groups to design studies that drive change in the market and public policy.  Our team works directly with community-driven campaigns to provide science and research capacity for communities burdened by toxic exposure. We have decades of experience testing and researching hazardous chemicals in consumer products, and coordinate with national market-based campaigns to advocate for safer chemical policies in a variety of sectors and industries. 

“We organize for change by doing our own science”

Despite mounting data showing the need to address toxic chemicals in a comprehensive way, the chemical safety of our marketplace and environment remains minimally regulated and largely unknown. 

The U.S. government doesn't require full testing of chemicals before they are added to most consumer products. And once they are on the market, the government almost never restricts their use, even in the face of new scientific evidence suggesting a health threat. Because children, adults and pets can be exposed to chemicals from many sources, and because the effects of some chemicals are cumulative, it is important to look at the whole picture concerning chemicals and health. 

From polluting manufacturing practices to product composition, companies have a huge amount of leeway. While some might make products that are free of phthalates, fire retardants, PFAS, or other toxic chemicals, these items often come at a higher sticker price, making the products inaccessible for lower-income families. 

Healthy Stuff Lab recognizes and encourages the role of scientific investigation in building equitable futures, increasing understanding of our world, and guiding public policy. We fight the corruption of science by systems of power and build democratic forms to expand access to scientific tools and knowledge, and promote all forms of participatory research. Our goal is to promote system change to address the root causes of social, economic, and ecological problems.

We believe everyone deserves to have healthy stuff and a healthy environment

To this aim, Healthy Stuff designs studies and aligns with people to do science more radically. We focus on community-based science, which is more than simply putting air, soil, water monitoring tools in the hands of community members; it shifts power to the public and away from corporations with seemingly endless resources and little incentive to change.

We organize for change by doing our own science, so we’re not limited to what we can convince a university to do, we’re not limited to what we can convince the state or federal regulators to do - Jeff Gearhart

We believe in transparency. That’s why we test for chemical hazards and release our findings in both peer-reviewed journals and easy-to-understand reports and articles, which help drive market and public policy campaigns. Over the years we've tested car seats, pans, Mardi Gras beads, shoes, crib mattresses, car interiors, and so much more. 

For as long as our chemical laws fail to protect us, the Ecology Center will continue to leverage the power of science and collective action to identify and eliminate toxic chemicals from our marketplace.