Lawsuit: Disclose PCB Levels in Fish Oil

Alfonsi - FDA, health/vitamin supplements CBS

A lawsuit brought by environmentalists in California claims popular brands of fish oil dietary supplements contain unsafe and illegal levels of the carcinogenic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, targets eight supplement manufacturers or distributors - CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, General Nutrition Corp., Solgar, Twinlab, Now Health, Omega Protein and Pharmavite - for alleged violations of California's Proposition 65, which requires that consumers be warned about chemical exposures.

The plaintiffs are two citizen environmentalists and the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation. Their initial testing found that levels of PCBs in supplements in popular fish oil products varied wildly, from about 12 nanograms per recommended dose in the best performer to more than 850 nanograms in the worst performer - a factor of 70.

But the suit claims that all of the manufacturers are in violation of Proposition 65 for not disclosing any non-zero PCB levels in their products.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys claim that that labels saying "Screened for PCBs" or "Treated to Remove PCBs" are especially problematic, because those labels imply - falsely - that PCBs have been removed entirely. They also believe that the manufacturers already have extensive data on the amount of PCBs present in their product.

Even the companies boasting the lowest contaminant levels have no incentive to release their data unless their competitors are forced to do so as well.

PCBs were officially listed as known carcinogens and known reproductive toxins in California two decades ago, making them subject to the California's warning requirement.

Still, a representative from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, speaking to CBS News, pointed out two 2008 reports that found no unsafe levels of dioxin, mercury or PCBs in a wide array of products - one from Consumer Reports and another from the well-regarded supplement testing publication ConsumerLab.
  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com

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