USGS: Mercury levels rising in Pacific

By

SeafoodSource staff

Published on
May 4, 2009

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report published on Friday found that mercury levels in the North Pacific in 2006 were approximately 30 percent higher than they were in the mid-1990s.
 
The report's authors also projected mercury levels in the North Pacific to increase 50 percent by 2050 if mercury emission rates continue to rise.
 
"This study gives us a better understanding of how dangerous levels of mercury move into our air, our water and the food we eat, and shines new light on a major health threat to Americans and people all across the world," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
 
According to Elsie Sunderland, a Harvard University scientist and the report's co-author, approximately 40 percent of mercury exposure among Americans originates from tuna harvested in the Pacific. The scientists sampled Pacific water from 16 sites from Honolulu to Kodiak, Alaska.
 
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) slammed the report, emphasizing that the authors did not test seafood, only ocean waters. The nonprofit pointed to a 2003 study by Princeton University geochemist Francois Morel that found mercury levels in Pacific tuna did not rise during a 27-year period, despite a significant increase in human-generated atmospheric mercury.
 
"No matter how much mercury is in ocean water, the levels in actual fish aren't increasing," said David Martosko, CCF's director of research. "And the entire medical literature still contains zero U.S. mercury-poisoning cases related to eating commercial fish. Even Jeremy Piven is eating tuna tartare again.
 
"Saying that human activity is putting any mercury into ocean fish is a wild guess," he added. "And it's reckless to suggest that tuna and other marine fish are somehow unsafe to eat.
 
"It's the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration's job to tell us what's safe to eat," said Martosko. "And the latest FDA report says we should be looking at all the health benefits of eating fish. Hand-wringing about mercury in ocean water isn't terribly useful."
 
A joint EPA-FDA advisory issued in 2004 warned pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid eating swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel and limit consumption of albacore tuna due to methylmercury, a naturally occurring neurotoxin found in long-living, predatory fish.
 
The report appeared in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, which is published by the American Geophysical Union. In addition to Sunderland, the report's authors were David Krabbenhoft of the USGS, John Moreau of the University of Melbourne, Australia, William Landing of Florida State University and Sarah Strode of Harvard University.

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