Mercury levels in women drop significantly

Published on
November 22, 2013

Even though a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study showed that mercury levels in women have dropped significantly, the government is not doing enough to convey the benefits of eating seafood, according to the National Fisheries Institute (NFI).

The percentage of women of childbearing age with blood mercury above “the level of concern” plummeted 65 percent from 2001 to 2010, compared to a survey conducted from 1999 to 2000, the EPA found in its peer-reviewed study, “Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age.”

In addition, the mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent in 2001 to 2010, compared to a survey conducted in 1999 to 2000.

“The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that they [pregnant women] eat at least eight ounces — more than four times what they do now.  So, the government message about the importance of seafood during pregnancy, mercury and all, is just not getting through to women,” Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for NFI, told SeafoodSource. “The benefits outweigh the risks. The fact that pregnant women still only eat 1.89 oz of seafood is nothing to celebrate — we have failed them and their children.”

In a statement accompanying the study, the EPA stressed that fish and shellfish are part of an important diet “because they are a source of high-quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and are mostly low in saturated fat.” “A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can be beneficial for heart health and children's proper growth and development,” the statement said.

“However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury,” the EPA said. “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.”

As a result, the EPA and the FDA recommend that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they have high levels of mercury.

In addition, they should eat up to 12 ounces per week of a variety of fish and shellfish low in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, the EPA said.

“The Federal government is the center of gravity on this issue. They have the nutrition science from well-respected researchers. They have the mandate to improve public health. They now need to finish the job and communicate the new information to consumers,” Gibbons said.

Meanwhile, the EPA found that blood methylmercury concentrations in women of childbearing age in the first survey cycle (1999 to 2000) were 1.5 times higher than the average concentration of the five subsequent cycles (2001 to 2010). The average of blood mercury concentrations changed only slightly from 2001 to 2010, and remained below levels of concern for health.

Contributing Editor

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