Last week, The Sierra Fund hosted a free public event, “Mercury and Human Health: An informational summit on the impacts of mercury exposure through fish consumption” in the California State Capitol Building. Attendees included medical doctors, public health experts, policymakers and others. The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Jane Hightower, a San Francisco internal medicine specialist, expert on mercury in the human body and author of Diagnosis: Mercury.
The half-day event, held Friday May 2, included an hour-long presentation by Dr. Hightower, question and answer session from the audience, then a two-hour round table discussion of how to address the mercury-fish issue in California. The Summit was sponsored by Senator Fran Pavley, Assemblymember Brian Dahle, Sierra Health Foundation, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, California Indian Environmental Alliance, and the California State University Chico School of Nursing.
The Sierra Fund CEO Elizabeth Martin introduced the afternoon’s presentation by describing the history of mercury use in California as part of historic mining activities, and how it continues to impact public health in the State today. The greatest evidence includes the fact that there are State-issued fish consumption warnings released regarding mercury for every lake or reservoir in California. Dr. Harry Wang, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, also contributed opening remarks about the importance of understanding mercury’s neurological effects on his area of expertise, child psychology and brain development.
Dr. Hightower’s presentation covered both established and new research about mercury in the human body. She documented neurological, cardiovascular and fertility effects in men and women, and the difficulties of defining dietary guidelines for non-sensitive and sensitive populations. Her presentation showed that sensitive populations to mercury exposure include not only pregnant women and their developing fetus, but also children with developing brains, chemotherapy patients, cancer patients autoimmune patients, transplant patients, people with atherosclerosis/coronary artery disease, gastrointestinal disease, chronic infections/TB, MAC, HIV, Lyme, people with genetically susceptibility to any of these things, and many others.
“There has never been a blinded, placebo, controlled study, giving humans methylmercury, to discern the entire spectrum of adverse effects ever published” stated Dr. Hightower. “Mercury is so toxic, you can’t get approval to study it [in humans].” More research is also needed on mercury’s impact when combined with other toxicants such as lead, or other chemicals.
After Dr. Hightower’s presentation, over 15 people remained for a facilitated discussion of how to raise awareness about mercury among health professionals in California, and how to bring them tools that will help them answer their patients’ questions. Dr. Hightower’s recommendations to doctors with patients that have high blood mercury levels was clear and concise: “Tell them: ‘Stop eating poison.’” She emphasized that while fish are an incredibly nutritious food, they needed to avoid fish that are high in mercury.
Dr. Jane Hightower is a Board Certified specialist in internal medicine. She is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the Bay Area, including California Pacific Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center. She has conducted medical board certified workshops for medical professionals as well as publishing results of her original research on public exposure to mercury through consuming fish.