Keep Our Families SafeThe On-Going Danger of Mercury in Fish
The presence of mercury in fish – especially in tuna – continues to be an issue debated by government agencies and environmental groups.
A revised series of estimates released by the Environmental Protection Agency point to the possibility that more than one in six children born in this country could be at risk for developmental disorders because of mercury exposure in the mother’s womb.
Recent research has shown that mercury has a tendency to concentrate in the blood in umbilical cord of pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as one woman in twelve who have reached childbearing age possesses a level of mercury in the blood that should be of concern. But this new research has shown that the concentration in the umbilical cord can be almost twice that of the mother’s blood.
Mercury is a metallic element that can be toxic to humans. Mercury in emissions from coal-burning power plants can pollute the environment, and consequently, contaminate the fish that people eat.
But fish is also nutritious for both mother and developing fetus. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fish – a good source of protein without the high saturated fat in many meat products – two times per week. Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to the AHA, may have health benefits.
Yet tuna has been identified by some environmental groups as a fish to avoid. One organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), has compiled a list of 13 fish women should avoid because of high mercury content: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, tuna steaks, sea bass, Gulf Coast oysters, marlin, halibut, pike, walleye, white croaker and largemouth bass. In addition, the EWG recommends eating no more than one serving per month of canned tuna.
What is significant about this new research is that this is the first time that the difference in mercury levels in both the mother and the fetus have been taken into account.
This is echoed by many, including Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group, who said that the study, “for the first time…calculated the number based on the children’s blood levels not the mothers’. The EPA analysis is showing that even if the mother is below the danger zone, she can give birth to a baby that’s over the limit.”
For more information on fish and mercury poisoning, visit the EWG web site at www.ewg.org and the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov.