Mercury in Fish

Public Broadcasting Service

In America one-in-six children born every year have been exposed to mercury levels so high that they are potentially at risk for learning disabilities and motor skill impairment and short-term memory loss. That type of mercury exposure is caused by eating certain kinds of fish, which contain high levels of the toxin from both natural and man-made sources such as emissions from coal-fired power plants. One government analysis shows that 630,000 children each year are exposed to potentially unsafe mercury levels in the womb. If the government and its scientists know about the mercury problem, why do so many people continue to be poisoned?

Over recent years NOW has examined how the influence of the tuna industry on the FDA may be putting Americans and their children at risk for mercury poisoning. Tuna, widely known for its health benefits, is one of the most popular foods on grocery store shelves. And, in 2000, FDA draft advisories presented to focus groups warned women not to eat a lot of canned tuna during pregnancy because it contains levels of mercury that can harm developing fetuses and nursing babies. In March 2004, the FDA and the EPA issued the first ever joint advisory on this topic, What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish.

The State of California has gone a step further. In 2003 the California Attorney General's office filed suit to force supermarkets, restaurants and tuna companies to warn customers that tuna (fresh, frozen and canned), swordfish and shark sold in their markets contain mercury. The suit was based on the state's Proposition 65 which requires consumer warnings for substances on a toxics list. The state also provided special warnings advising women and children to "Limit their consumption of other fish, including tuna." And they further advised that "tuna steaks and canned albacore have higher levels of mercury than canned light."

Keeping Mercury Out of the Environment

One source of mercury that needs to be prevented from contaminating the environment is fluorescent lighting. Though the mercury content in each bulb is small, the thousands of lamps thrown away each year add up to release a significant amount of mercury into the environment. A cost-effective and simple Air Cycle lamp recyclings solution can keep facility lamps from contributing to the problem. Learn more » Air Cycle lamp recycling solutions