PCBs in Fish and Shellfish

What and where are PCBs?Power transformer

  • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are a group of industrial chemicals.

  • PCBs were once used in electrical transformers, plastics, and lubricating oils, but were banned in the US in the 1970s.

  • PCBs persist in the environment from spills, leaks, and improper disposal. They can remain for many years in soil and the sediment under rivers, lakes and other water bodies.

  • PCBs may also be found in fish and shellfish. These foods can contain high levels of PCBs in some areas.


What is the health concern for humans?

  • High levels of PCBs:

    • can increase cancer risk.

    • can harm the developing fetus and infant, which can include effects on growth and learning.

  • Women can pass PCBs on to their babies during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Should I still eat fish?

  • Yes!  Low-contaminant fish are an important part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. 

  • Fish are a good source of protein, vitamins, and are a primary source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. 

  • Eating two servings of fish per week is good for you, according to the American Heart Association.

  • If you are pregnant, eating low-contaminant fish may help the baby’s brain develop.


If PCBs are present, which fish pose the greatest risk?

  • Fatty fish, bottom feeders, and fish that eat other fish.

  • Larger, older fish.


How can I reduce my risk?

  • If you catch your own fish, follow the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) fish advisories for California water bodies.
  • Keep in mind that PCBs accumulate in the skin, fat, and some internal organs of fish or shellfish.
  • Trim the fat, remove the skin, and fillet the fish before cooking. Eat only the skinless fillet (meat).
  • For crab and lobster, remove the internal organs (“guts,” “butter,” or “tomalley”) and rinse out the body cavity before cooking.
  • Bake or grill fish in a way that lets the juices drain away. Throw away the cooking juices.
  • Boil or steam crab and lobster, and discard the cooking liquid.
  • Do not use the fat, skin, organs, juices, or the whole fish or shellfish, in soups and stews.

Diagram for how to prepare fish by removing skin, fat, and guts

Where can I learn more?



Fish Advisory Map

View maps of current statewide and site-specific advisories

Advisory Map

Fish, Ecotoxicology and Water Section

Sacramento Office
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 423-7572

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