Seafood Remains Top Source of Mercury Exposure in United States
20 June 2011, SAN FRANCISCO — Environmental and consumer organizations filed a legal petition today asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement stricter regulations to protect women, children and people who eat fish from mercury in seafood. The petition seeks a requirement that seafood sellers post warning signs about the danger of mercury in fish and seeks more stringent mercury limits in commercially caught fish.
The petition [ http://www.seaturtles.org/downloads/FDA%20Petition.doc] was filed by Attorney Prof. Deborah A. Sivas, Director of the Stanford Law School Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of GotMercury.org, a project of the nonprofit organization Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity. Thirteen public health and environmental organizations have come out in support of the actions requested in the petition.
“The FDA has been negligent for far too long in protecting the public from the dangers of mercury in fish,” said Buffy Martin Tarbox of GotMercury.org. “Americans, especially women and children, are being put in harm’s way by the FDA’s lack of enforcement and testing of our nations seafood supply.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the number-one source of mercury exposure in the United States is contaminated seafood. A recent study found over one-third of mercury exposure is from the consumption of tuna.
“Swordfish and many types of tuna contain hazardous levels of mercury, yet the government has failed to take action and still allows the sale of high-mercury seafood,” said Miyoko Sakashita, Director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The petition asks the FDA to review and update mercury standards and policies to include lowering the allowable mercury level of 1 part per million (ppm) to 0.5 ppm to be in line with the EPA’s mercury action level. Conservation groups also asked the FDA to require seafood retailers to post mercury-in-fish advisories wherever seafood is sold.
The FDA has determined that women of childbearing age and young children should not eat swordfish 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in 2004, but the FDA does not require the warning to be posted by seafood sellers; the agency relies on obsolete and outdated mercury data despite mounting evidence that mercury levels in fish are increasing. It has also admitted it tests less than 1 percent of seafood for mercury levels.
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.
GotMercury.org works to protect people and the environment from mercury. Because of the ubiquitous nature of mercury in the environment and because federal and state public health agencies are not doing enough to raise public awareness and protect the public from mercury, GotMercury.org developed the free online mercury-in-fish calculators that have received millions of hits since 2002. For more information visit: www.gotmercury.org or www.gotmercury.mobi
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org