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Group Calls For Stronger Tuna-Mercury Warnings

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, January 25, 2008 11:51 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Toxic Substances


Mercury contamination in tuna and other fish is more widespread than previously thought.


Consumers who were previously conflicted about eating fish have more to worry about. There are more serious warnings today about the dangers of mercury found in fish both in Manhattan and nationwide.

On Wednesday, the New York Times found mercury in tuna sushi taken from 20 different Manhattan stores and restaurants. 

The levels of mercury found in tuna sushi, 0.88 parts per million, exceeds the levels considered acceptable by the EPA.  Consuming just six pieces a week extends a consumers acceptable weekly level of mercury intake into several months.

Now an international conservation group, Oceana, is reporting that levels of mercury in fresh tuna has been found in stores and restaurants nationwide as high as levels of mercury in Manhattan.

Oceana tested a variety of fish bought in 26 cities.  Tuna steaks from 23 grocery stores found a mercury concentration of 0.68 parts per million, higher than the Manhattan survey. Swordfish was even higher. Tilapia and mackerel had the lower levels of mercury.

Tuna sushi was the worst both in Manhattan and nationwide. Oceana found 0.86 parts per million, the Times found 0.88.

The worst was tuna sushi found nationwide. One third in the Oceana survey exceeded one part per million, so toxic the FDA could remove it from store shelves, which it never does.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that impacts nerve development in the fetus, infants and children. The FDA recommends that women of childbearing years and children consume no more than 12 ounces of fish a week including 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna.  The health warnings extend to everyone who is supposed to avoid swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark because of high mercury levels.  

What is a consumer seeking good health to do since nutritionists recommend people consume more fish for the high omega-3, or good fat count?   The Environmental Working Group has a list of fish that’s safer for consumers.

Time Magazine asked the experts.  Dr. Dariush Mazaffarian, from Harvard Medical School has written about the impact of fish consumption on human health. He says don’t stop eating fish. “Overall, the dangers of not eating fish [including tuna] outweigh the small possible dangers from mercury. The recommended amount for adults is to eat one or two servings of fish per week — but probably only 10% to 20% of the population in the U.S. eats sufficient fish.”

He believes mercury toxicity symptoms – imbalance, sensory disturbances – go away if you stop eating the mercury.  The real danger might be with cardiovascular effects. Some studies have shown a link between an increased risk of heart attack with higher mercury consumption.

Many feel there should be no tolerable exposure allowed for mercury like the lead standard.

Don’t depend on too much good information from your store.  Oceana asked people at the counter what warning they pass onto consumers about seafood and they found 87 percent gave an incorrect answer or didn’t know.

Many stores already post a seafood warning at their counters such as Vons, Dominick’s Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Oceana would like the FDA to require a warning be posted at seafood counters  and to add tuna to a “Do Not Eat” list. The group would like more and frequent testing of seafood for toxicity.  #



Anonymous User
Posted by Rene
Friday, January 25, 2008 12:40 PM EST

"The levels of mercury found in tuna sushi, 0.88 parts per million, exceeds the levels considered acceptable by the EPA."
The EPA does not establish safe levels for human consumption, the FDA does. These are well below any threshold of any risk to any human of any age.

Posted by Tess
Friday, January 25, 2008 4:55 PM EST

Comment by Rene states "The EPA does not establish safe levels for human consumption, the FDA does. These are well below any threshold of any risk to any human of any age."

Actually this is incorrect. In fact, the EPA has done extensive research in their establishment of safe levels of mercury (and other contaminants) in seafood for human consumption. (Find some of it here: LINK )

The mercury levels in tuna reported in the article exceed both the EPA and the FDA recommendations (which BTW are essentially the same).

Does Rene work for the tuna industry?

Posted by Todd Steiner
Monday, January 28, 2008 2:15 PM EST

There's an easy way to estimate your mercury in-take from consuming seafood with a free on-line seafood mercury calculator based on EPA and FDA standards. 

Just go to


and list the fish you eat and your put in your weight.

Comments for this article are closed.

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