Assessing the Benefits and Risks

How do toxins get in our seafood?

Pollutants get into water from air, runoff, or solid waste deposits. Plankton and plants absorb these chemical pollutants from the water and sediment, and then get eaten by other organisms - which get eaten by other organisms, and so on. Each larger organism must eat more to get enough energy, and so the pollutant bioaccumulates the higher it gets in the food web. In the following flash movie, the green button shows a typical aquatic food chain. The red button shows pollutants bioaccumulating up this food chain.

Eating a variety of different seafood is helpful in minimizing your risk of bioaccumulated toxins. Eat fish and shellfish from different habitats, and from different steps on the food chain. The older, larger, and higher on the food chain your particular dinner is, the more chemical contaminants it may have accumulated in its lifetime. Also pay attention to Federal and State government issued seafood advisories. They alert the public to species of concern in certain waters, and advise special populations about consumption patterns.

Flash graphic and adapted text by C.Muscio, NJAES Environotes, Fall 2004.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences