What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
Pocket-sized seafood-rating guide
Can not remember what fish is high or low in mercury - just download The Green Guide's Fish Picks card [PDF] from
Eating Tuna Safely
Environmental Working Group will tell you what the FDA won't
- you can plug in your weight and find out how much tuna you can safely eat per week.
FDA Seafood Advisory is Industry Giveaway. FDA Advice would increase the number of babies exposed to unsafe levels of mercury.
What EPA and FDA recommend
Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish
from Natural Resource Defense Council
About farmed salmon and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from www.thegreenguide.com
Mean Tissue Mercury Concentrations in Non-commercial Fish from Advisory Sites
For information about fish you catch yourself
Coastal Women Have Highest Mercury Levels
Protecting Your Kids This Fall: Fluoride, Ozone and Mercury
What EPA and FDA recommend
1. What is mercury and methylmercury?
- What is mercury and methylmercury?
- I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so why should I be concerned about methylmercury?
- Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
- I don't see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I do?
- What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
- The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what's the advice about tuna steaks?
- What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?
- Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?
- Further information
- Background information about the advisory
- 2004 EPA and FDA Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young Children
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.
2. I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so why should I be concerned about methylmercury?
If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.
3. Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.
4. I don't see the fish I eat in the advisory. What should I do?
If you want more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety web site
or the EPA Fish Advisory website
5. What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
Fish sticks and "fast-food" sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.
6. The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what's the advice about tuna steaks?
Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.
7. What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?
One week's consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.
8. Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?
Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.
9. Further Information
For further information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit FDA's Food Safety Website
For further information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection Agency's Fish Advisory website
or contact your State or Local Health Department
. For information on EPA's actions to control mercury, visit EPA's mercury website
10. Background information about the advisory
Fact Sheet: Backgrounder on the FDA/EPA Consumer Advisory on Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
Background on the process used to develop and test the advisory message, a summary of the key messages and of differences between the current and previous advisories.
11. 2004 EPA and FDA Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young Children
Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. 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. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. 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.
By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.
- Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
- Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
- Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
- Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.
Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions.
Eating Tuna Safely
This table provides guidelines on how much canned tuna it is safe to eat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. While mercury poses the most serious health threat to children and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, others may also wish to use this list as a guide.
|Weight in Pounds
||Frequency a Person Can Safely Eat A 6-ounce Can of Tuna
|White Albacore||Chunk Light
|11|| 1 can/4 months|| 1 can/6 weeks
|22|| 1 can/2 months|| 1 can/23 days
|33 ||1 can/5 weeks|| 1 can/2 weeks
|44 ||1 can/4 weeks|| 1 can/12 days
|55 ||1 can/3 weeks ||1 can/9 days
|66|| 1 can/3 weeks|| 1 can/8 days
|77 ||1 can/3 weeks ||1 can/week
|88|| 1 can/2 weeks|| 1 can/6 days
|99|| 1 can/2 weeks|| 1 can/5 days
|110|| 1 can/12 days|| 1 can/5 days
|121|| 1 can/11 days|| 1 can/4 days
|132|| 1 can/10 days ||1 can/4 days
|143|| 1 can/9 days ||1 can/4 days
|154|| 1 can/9 days ||1 can/3 days
|165|| 1 can/8 days ||1 can/3 days
|176|| 1 can/week ||1 can/3 days
|187|| 1 can/week|| 1 can/3 days
|198|| 1 can/week|| 1 can/3 days
|209|| 1 can/6 days|| 1 can/2 days
|220|| 1 can/6 days|| 1 can/2 days
Source: Food and Drug Administration test results for mercury and fish, and the Environmental Protection Agency's determination of safe levels of mercury.
Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish
Natural Resource Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp
The list below shows the amount of various types of fish that a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant can safely eat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with small children who want to use the list as a guide should reduce portion sizes. Adult men, and women who are not planning to become pregnant, are less at risk from mercury exposure but may wish to refer to the list for low-mercury choices.
Protecting yourself -- and the fish
: Certain fish, even some that are low in mercury, make poor choices for other reasons, most often because they have been fished so extensively that their numbers are perilously low. These fish are marked with an asterisk (read more below).
This list applies to fish caught and sold commercially. For information about fish you catch yourself, check for advisory in your state http://epa.gov/waterscience/fish/states.htm
Fish are listed in descending order, so those at the bottom of each category are lower in mercury than those at the top.
Eat no more than three 6-ounce servings per month
Tuna (canned, white albacore) click for more specific guidelines
Tuna (fresh bluefin, ahi)
Eat no more than six 6-ounce servings per month
Tuna (canned, chunk light) click for more specific guidelines
Tuna (fresh Pacific albacore)
Enjoy these fish
* Fish to avoid for reasons other than mercury
: Fish and other types of seafood are marked with an asterisk above if any of their populations are depleted due to overfishing or if the methods used to catch them are especially damaging to other sea life or ocean habitats. To learn more, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium
and the Blue Ocean Institute
, both of which provide guides to fish to enjoy or avoid on the basis of environmental factors.
: Farmed salmon may contain PCBs, manufactured chemicals with serious long-term health effects. (PCBs were banned in the U.S. in the 1970s but remain in the environment.)
Sources for NRDC's guide
: The data for this guide to mercury in fish comes from two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Information, which tests fish for mercury, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines mercury levels that it considers safe for women of childbearing age.
About the mercury-level categories
: The categories on the list (highest mercury to lowest mercury) are determined according to the following mercury levels in the flesh of tested fish.
About farmed salmon and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) www.greenguide.com
- Highest mercury: More than .55 parts per million
- High mercury: From 0.26 to 0.55 parts per million
- Lower mercury: From 0.12 to 0.25 parts per million
- Lowest mercury: Less than 0.12 parts per million
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) -- neurotoxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals banned in the U.S. since 1977 -- were found at levels seven times higher in farmed salmon than in wild ones, according to a study published in Science in January 2004. PCBs are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which accumulate in animal fats. Because most farmed salmon are raised on feed that includes ground-up fish -- and
sometimes other animals, such as cattle -- their bodies collect POPs. PCBs are also found at high levels in fish from polluted water bodies, varying from locale to locale; state health advisories list which fish should not be consumed by children, pregnant or nursing women, and women of childbearing age. Other POPs found in fish include the organochlorine pesticide dieldrin and dioxins, which result from chlorine paper bleaching and manufacturing and incineration of PVC plastic.
: Wild Alaska and California salmon (fresh or canned).
Don't eat the skin and fatty parts of fish, where POPs collect. Eat grilled, baked, and broiled rather than fried fish, to avoid fat.
Check with your state's department of health for POP advisories before eating fish from local waters.
Can not remember what fish is high or low in mercury - just download The Green Guide's Fish Picks card
[PDF], a handy pocket-sized seafood-rating guide.
Coastal Women Have Highest Mercury Levels
The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reports
on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that shows that U.S. women living near a coast have higher levels than women living inland. East Coast women averaged 7.7 parts per billion (ppb) of mercury in their blood and West Coast women averaged 4.7 ppb. Women living inland had an average mercury blood level of 2.4 ppb. EPA guidelines say levels higher than 33.5 ppb are a possible health threat.
Mercury harms the brain of developing children, which is why health officials aim to warn women of childbearing age to eat a variety of seafood and to limit consumption of high-mercury fish such as tuna.
Because it's hard for a one-size-fits-all health advisory to really tell a woman how much tuna she can eat, EWG used federal data to assemble our Tuna Calculator
, where you can plug in your weight and find out how much tuna you can safely eat per week.
To read about EWG's work on mercury in seafood, please visit http://www.ewg.org/issues/siteindex/issues.php?
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Protecting Your Kids This Fall: Fluoride, Ozone and Mercury
By: Catherine Zandonella, M.P.H
October 1, 2005
We want our kids to go back to school with glowing smiles, healthy bodies and sound minds. New studies looking at fluoride, ozone and mercury suggest ways to protect our kids' health this fall.
How Safe Is Fluoride?
Fluoride helps protect your children's teeth, reducing decay in "baby" teeth by 60 percent and in permanent adult teeth by nearly 35 percent, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). But the key to good health is to make sure children are getting the proper amount.
Some kids get too much fluoride from combined sources such as sodas made in areas with fluoridated water and by swallowing fluoridated mouthwashes and toothpaste. Too much fluoride during childhood can cause a permanent brown mottling of the teeth known as fluorosis. And some
studies of animals and humans have linked ingestion of fluoride in drinking water to an increased risk of a osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.
Dental-health professionals say that cancer fears are unfounded and that fluoride presents no health risk at the recommended level in drinking water, 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million (ppm). The studies linking fluoridated water to cancer failed to control for other cancer-related factors, such as increased industrialization, says Howard Pollick, B.D.S., M.P.H., a professor of dentistry at U.C. San Francisco.
Researchers at the Environmental Working Group argue that the cancer risk is real, and they've petitioned the government's National Toxicology Program to add fluoride to their list of carcinogens. The EWG also cites studies showing that fluoride accumulates in bone and damages human chromosomes. "It is the total package that they need to look at," says Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the EWG.
Pollick acknowledges that fluoride, like other minerals, migrates to the bone. He says, however, that numerous reviews have found insufficient evidence that fluoride causes chromosome damage at commonly encountered levels.
In an effort to settle the controversy, the National Academy of Sciences is reviewing the toxicity of fluoride in a report due out in 2006.
Meanwhile, dental-health experts say that while cancer is not a risk, fluorosis is a concern for children who ingest too much total fluoride. Parents should take simple steps to make sure their children are getting the proper amount.
What You Can Do
- Children should brush at least twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste and floss once a day under parental supervision.
- For young kids who aren't yet capable of spitting out toothpaste, use a non-fluoridated toothpaste like Orajel Toddler Training Toothpaste.
- Have children see a dentist regularly.
- The ADA recommends avoiding the use of fluoridated mouth rinses for children under six years of age because they may swallow the rinse.
- Check fluoride levels in your water by calling your local water company or the Department of Public Health.
- If you don't have fluoridated water, Pollick recommends considering a fluoride supplement for children (available only by prescription).
- If your water's fluoride level is above 1.2 ppm, you can reduce it using a reverse-osmosis or water-distillation unit.
- Infants fed formula reconstituted with fluoridated water are not at risk of getting too much fluoride, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Ozone and Exercise
Three new independent studies have strengthened the link between ozone and increased death rates. All three studies, published in the July Epidemiology, found that for every 10 parts per billion increase in average daily ozone, the total mortality rate went up by at least four-fifths of a percent. The rates are about twice as high in the northern hemisphere during the summer. "What is really striking is that all three studies were conducted differently but they all found basically the same thing," says David Bates, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.
Most of these deaths were in older people with heart and respiratory conditions. In children, ozone can cause respiratory conditions and asthma attacks. Some 49 percent of the population lives in areas of elevated ozone levels. Produced by sunlight reacting with pollution from cars and industrial sources, ozone levels are highest between noon and 3 p.m., so children heading out to play during and after school encounter the highest ozone levels of the day.
What you can do
- Check daily air-quality levels at www.epa.gov/airnow/where/
- Check your area's ozone "grade" at www.lungaction.org/ reports/stateoftheair2005.html
- Children should limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors on days with unhealthy ozone levels.
- See asthma checklists in GG #92 and #56-#57.
We know mercury in fish is toxic, but giving up fish means missing out on omega-3 fatty acids that help foster brain development both before birth and during early childhood. Now a new study published this May online in Environmental Health Perspectives of 135 mothers and their babies in eastern Massachusetts has found that the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks, as long as you choose fish that are low in mercury.
For each additional weekly serving of fish that the mothers ate, their babies' cognitive scores increased by an average of 4 points, or about 7 percent. However, for each increase of 1 ppm of mercury, the babies' scores dropped by 7.5 points, or 12.5 percent.