The lawsuit alleges that six manufacturers and two retailers that sell fish oil pills failed to warn consumers that the products contained a cancer-causing chemical as required by Proposition 65. Tuesday, a California based environmental group filed the lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court.
The public infatuation with fish oil has literally reached billion dollar proportions -- that is how much U.S. consumers are estimated to spend each year on products like fish oil supplements that tout the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 has been linked to cures for everything from heart disease to depression.
But testing done on behalf of the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation in Eureka found the supplements contain PCBs, a cancer-causing chemical banned in 1979 but still present in the transformers of telephone poles. PCBs are still present in the environment and may have gotten into some fish.
"We found what we think is the dirty little secret of the omega 3 fish oil industry; they have PCBs," Chris Manthey of FishOilSafety.com said.
"What you'll see is the results from our lab tests, it's a huge range, some of these products have 70 times as many PCBs as others," attorney David Roe said.
The lawsuit names eight companies including GNC, CVS pharmacy and Rite Aid. Rite Aid and CVS declined to comment, but GNC told ABC7 that "it's confident the GNC fish oil products are safe and appropriate for use."
An industry trade group went further saying, "They insinuate this is a safety risk and clearly it is not."
The Council for Responsible Nutrition maintains that taking fish oil supplements are much safer than eating fish itself.
Roe sees it differently.
"What we're saying is you shouldn't have to expose yourself to a health harm to get the health benefits of these products," he said.
In the video for this story, 7 On Your Side showed video of products made by Nordic Naturals. ABC7 would like to make clear that Nordic Naturals is not being sued and is not being accused of violating state law.
The companies being sued are: CVS Pharmacy, General Nutrition (GNC), Now Health Group, Omega Protein, Pharmavite, Rite Aid, Solgar and Twin Lab.