Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mercury in Fish

To me, mercury is just not okay. Its bad enough that I have dental amalgams that contain mercury. Now, you can barely eat fish more than once a month (and I just love sushi). Here is a great article that finally tells all women, especially pregnant women, how dangerous fish is. And I've decided to just avoid tuna all together. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consider avoiding all fish, and just take purified fish oil supplements.

Fish Food: The Lowdown on Mercury

By: ePregnancy

FishFood_img1 Government recommendations for fish consumption could expose more than one in four expectant mothers -- 1 million women -- to enough mercury to put the health of their fetuses at risk, according to a new investigation released today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The report examines widespread mercury contamination in fish species caught and sold commercially.

To protect public health the report recommends that pregnant women not eat any quantity of 13 types of fish, and strictly limit consumption of 10 others, including canned tuna. The report also asks government health authorities to test and track mercury levels in pregnant women -- and to expand education for pregnant women about the hazards of mercury and how they can reduce their exposure.

"The government's recommendations are not grounded in reality. For example, they say the average woman can safely eat the equivalent of 76 cans of tuna during her pregnancy. In the real world, eating more than about one can of tuna a month during pregnancy is risky," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's Research Director.

FishFood_img2"Women are faced with an unacceptable trade-off -- fish are a rich source of protein during pregnancy, but mercury pollution has made many types of fish a considerable health risk to their babies," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Our government agencies are not only failing to provide adequately protective warnings to expectant mothers, but are failing even to track human exposure to mercury and the developmental and learning problems that it causes."

Mercury is toxic to the developing fetal brain, and exposure in the womb can cause learning deficiencies and can delay mental development in children. A committee of the National Academy of Sciences recommended last year that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tighten its safety standards for mercury in fish.

The analysis released today accounts for the real differences among American women and their risks from mercury exposure, rather than relying on a hypothetical average. The information on mercury in people was combined with a one-of-a-kind EWG database on fish that contains 56,000 records of mercury test results in fish from seven different government sources. The EWG/PIRG report also reviews state governments' mercury advisories and finds that while some states are better than others, virtually none provides thorough protection for pregnant women.

Which Fish Is Safe to Eat?

The FDA advises pregnant women and women considering pregnancy to eat 12 ounces of fish per week and to entirely avoid swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. However, this advice is based on calculations intended to protect a 150-pound man. Half of American women weigh less than that and a developing fetus is much more sensitive to the health impacts of mercury than a grown man.

What the FDA Says...
The FDA recommendation also does not account for the mercury already present in a woman's body before she becomes pregnant. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported 10% of American women of childbearing age -- some 7 million women -- already have mercury in their blood at levels that the National Academy of Sciences considers potentially unsafe for the developing fetus. The CDC's findings were issued two months after FDA's latest fish standards were announced.

Some groups are urging the EPA to crack down on the main culprit for mercury contamination, coal-burning power plants. Mercury emissions from these plants are currently completely unregulated. There is also no comprehensive program for tracking mercury exposure and related health conditions. Federal decision makers should require power plants to reduce their mercury pollution by 90% and ultimately move away from polluting sources of power altogether. In addition, a nationwide environmental health tracking network would be a critical step in assessing the impact of mercury contamination on human health.

  • Pregnant women, nursing mothers and all women of childbearing age, should not eat tuna steaks, sea bass, oysters from the Gulf Coast, marlin, halibut, pike, walleye, white croaker, and largemouth bass. These are in addition to FDA's recommendation to entirely avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
  • These women should eat no more than one meal per month combined of canned tuna, mahi-mahi, blue mussel, Eastern oyster, cod, pollock, salmon from the Great Lakes, blue crab from the Gulf of Mexico, wild channel catfish and lake whitefish.
  • The following fish are safer choices for avoiding mercury exposure: farmed trout or catfish, shrimp, fish sticks, flounder, wild Pacific salmon, croaker, haddock, and blue crab from the mid-Atlantic.


Granola said...

Thank you for your research! I know they hand out those handy fish eating flyers at the doc but I never know what is "truth" or what is truth coming from them. Have you heard anything about tilapia in your research? I didn't see it on the Fish Chart. I was considering making some fish sticks out of it for the kids and I (I think I'm newly pregnant again too). So I want to be extra careful. Thanks!

Granola said...

Dear Melissa,
I thought I would mention that I just read an article in my Mothering magazine on this topic. It answers my question about tilapia. They reference a website ( that is very helpful. It seems they go a few steps further than the FDA. They say that the top kid-safe seafoods are:
-Wild Alaskan Salmon
-Tilapia (yeah now I can make those fish sticks)
- Bay Scallops
- US/Canadian-farmed Shrimp
-Farmed Blue Mussels
Just thought I'd pass it along. Thanks again for your site!