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    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    Mercury in fish

    Well, it looks like the government has been keeping information from us. I can't wait for the class-action lawsuits. Apparently this isn't new news, but it was new and shocking to me--tuna is incredibly high in mercury.

    If you don't know, the limit for mercury in a human body is 1 microgram of mercury per gram of hair (why they measure hair, I don't know...perhaps it's easier to extract the mercury). The Wall Street Journal reports it another way:
    The maximum mercury ingestion the EPA deems safe is one microgram a day for each 22 pounds of body weight.
    All this means we Americans ingest too much mercury, and we get it from fish. For years we have heard about the benefits of omega-3-fatty acids, and why we should all eat fish, fish, fish. Well, yes, omega-3-fatty acids are beneficial, but as our mommas used to tell us, "everything in moderation." Case in point? See what's happened to Atkins Nutritionals Inc. since people realized that the diet really wasn't that healthy after all.

    The crux is this: The Wall Street Journal reports that
    The federal advisory said that nursing mothers and women who are pregnant or may become so should eat no more than 12 ounces of chunk light tuna a week. For solid white albacore, which is higher in mercury, it set a six-ounce weekly limit. Young children, it said, should eat "smaller portions." No advice was given for men or older women...If a 130-pound woman ate as much albacore tuna as the joint federal advisory allows, she would exceed that safe level by 40%.
    The actual joint FDA/EPA advisory says this:
    A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

    However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury... some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system...Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
    Now doesn't that seem contradictory to you??

    So, if you follow the FDA/EPA recommendation of 12oz canned light tuna a week or 6 oz albacore tuna, you'd still have 40% more mercury than the EPA says is healthy. And this isn't just canned tuna, but also tuna steaks, shark, swordfish, lobster, etc. Most larger fish.

    The Natural Resources Council of Maine reports that mercury levels exceeded the EPA limit in 21% of childbearing women nationally and 44% of women in Maine in late 2004.

    The Wall Street Journal continues,
    The tuna industry has continued to aim some marketing at pregnant women and kids. An ad sponsored by the U.S. Tuna Foundation last year, which specified the new federal consumption guidelines, reassured "pregnant and nursing women and young children" that canned tuna "is absolutely safe to eat." Extolling the benefits of fish's omega-3 fatty acids for babies' eyes and brains, the ad said: "No government study has ever found unsafe levels of mercury in women or young children who eat canned tuna."

    ...At [a hearing in 2003], FDA scientists said they had put fish in three categories: high in mercury, medium and low. The level for the low-mercury group was that of canned light tuna, explained FDA official Clark Carrington. "In order to keep the market share at a reasonable level, we felt like we had to keep light tuna in the low-mercury group," he said, according to the meeting's official transcript.

    Later, the FDA's Dr. Acheson reiterated that point. He told the meeting the fish categories "were arbitrarily chosen to put light tuna in the low category."

    Says Maine's Dr. Rice: "Here's the FDA making what are supposed to be scientific decisions on the basis of market share. What else is there to say?"
    The risk for pregnant mothers may be greater.
    The EPA's exposure limit is based on its calculation that mercury above 5.8 parts per billion in young women's bloodstreams may pose a danger to their babies. By this measure, 5.7% of U.S. infants, or 228,000 a year, could be at risk of mercury poisoning during gestation, based on the latest blood survey of women of childbearing age by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The maximum safe level might be lower still, says the EPA's top mercury risk assessor, Kathryn Mahaffey, based on recent evidence that fetuses concentrate more mercury in their blood than do their pregnant mothers.
    The EPA still isn't doing much to recify the situation. The Washington Post reports that the EPA ignored key research published by its own scientists in conjunction with Harvard supporting more stringent controls on mercury emissions.
    The Harvard study concluded that mercury controls similar to those the EPA proposed could save nearly $5 billion a year through reduced neurological and cardiac harm.
    Instead, the EPA ignored its own research and enacted less stringent controls on U.S. manufacturing plants.

    All in all, it will be the children that take the brunt of this fiasco. Matthew Davis, the Wall Street Journal reports, abruptly lost interest in school, couldn't do arithmatic or catch a football, and his fingers started to curl as a result of eating canned tuna.
    Today, nearly two years after Matthew quit eating albacore tuna, his blood-mercury level is zero and his condition is dramatically improved. Although his doctors don't know if he had any permanent damage, signs so far are that he didn't. Sports and homework come much easier again.

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