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FDA Lands in Court Over Mercury in Fish

(31.07.2012)


Background:
Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public-health problem, especially for women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children. Mercury ingestion can lead to memory loss, developmental and learning disorders, vision loss, heart disease and, rarely, death.

The FDA has determined that women of childbearing age and young children should not eat swordfish and three other types of fish and should limit consumption of tuna due to high mercury levels. A mercury-in-fish advisory was issued in 2004, but the FDA does not require the warning to be posted by seafood sellers; the agency relies on obsolete and outdated mercury data despite mounting evidence that mercury levels in fish are increasing. FDA tests less than 1 percent of seafood for mercury levels. Currently, the FDA’s guidelines for mercury allow 1 part per million.


Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Public From Mercury in Fish:
The lawsuit was filed June 20  by GotMercury.org—a project between Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity focused on regulating mercury levels and educating consumers about the risks of consuming mercury-tainted seafood. The group seeks a response to a 2011 petition for rules requiring seafood sellers to post signs about the danger of mercury in fish, improved health advisories for people most at-risk from mercury exposure and more stringent mercury limits for FDA-approved seafood.

“We are filing suit because the government has failed to respond to reasonable precautions protecting Americans from mercury toxicity in seafood,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “By not responding within the 180 days dictated by law, the FDA is demonstrating its lack of due diligence and its obligation to protect women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women, children and the most vulnerable populations from harm.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the No. 1 source of mercury exposure for people in the United States is contaminated seafood. The EPA calculates that 15 percent of newborns (630,000) in the United States are at risk each year to neurological defects from mercury contamination.

“By ignoring its own standards and allowing seafood that is high in mercury to be sold, the FDA is putting hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans at risk of permanent nerve damage and cognitive disorders,” said David McGuire of GotMercury.org. “The FDA is putting Americans in harm’s way through its lack of advisories, enforcement and testing of our nation’s seafood supply.”

“Swordfish and many types of tuna species contain hazardous levels of mercury, yet the U.S. government has failed to take action and continues to allow high-mercury seafood to be sold,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s lawsuit requests that the FDA review and update mercury standards and policies to bring the allowable mercury levels in seafood in line with levels low enough to protect vulnerable populations, such as children. The petition seeks to cut the allowable mercury level in half, from 1 part per million (ppm) to 0.5 ppm, which would harmonize it with EPA recommendations. Conservation groups also asked the FDA to require seafood retailers to post mercury-in-fish advisories wherever seafood is sold.

The petition was filed in 2011 by GotMercury.org, a project of the nonprofit organization Turtle Island Restoration Network; the Center for Biological Diversity; and the Stanford University Environmental Law Clinic. Scores of public health and environmental organizations have come out in support of the actions requested in the petition — yet the request has been ignored by the FDA.

Source: adapted from GotMercury.org


Related information

 GotMercury.org: Calculate your mercury intake with the fish meal
US EPA: Fish consumption advice
US EPA: National listing of fish advisories
 California Office of Environmental Health Hazzard Assessment: Methylmercury in Sportfish - Information for Fish Consumers
 Position UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA)
 Comments by the Mercury Policy Project
 Opinion of the US Tuna Foundation


Related EVISA Resources:

Link database: Mercury exposure through the diet
Link database: Environmental cycling of mercury
Link database: Toxicity of Organo-mercury compounds
Link database: Research projects related to organo-mercury compounds



Related EVISA News:

June 17, 2012: Factors Affecting Methylmercury Accumulation in the Food Chain
March 1, 2012: High levels of mercury in newborns likely from mothers eating contaminated fish
October 15, 2011: Mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region -- nearly forgotten, but not gone
August 16, 2010: Methylmercury: What have we learned from Minamata Bay?
August 21, 2009: USGS Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide
May 3, 2009: Ocean mercury on the rise
February 11, 2009: Mercury in Fish is a Global Health Concern
October 30, 2008: Precautionary approach to methylmercury needed
March 11, 2007: Methylmercury contamination of fish warrants worldwide public warning
October 9, 2006: Linking atmospheric mercury to methylmercury in fish
August 16, 2006: Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say
June 8, 2006: Methylmercury in fish: Can you cook it out ? 
February 17, 2006: Study shows link between clear lakes and methylmercury contamination in fish
February 9, 2006: Study show high levels of mercury in women related to fish consumption
August 29, 2005: Is methyl mercury limiting the delight of seafood ? - To answer this question is a challenge for elemental speciation analysis
January 12, 2005: Number of fish meals is a good predictor for the mercury found in hair of environmental journalists
April 27, 2004: New kind of mercury found in fish
April 27, 2004: FDA/EPA recommends pregnant women to restrict their fish consumption because of methylmercury content


last time modified: July 31, 2012









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