Coal Tattoo

So how did that mercury get into the fish?

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There’s important news out today from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. Marla Cone of Environmental Health News reports:

Federal officials on Tuesday announced major changes in advice to pregnant and breastfeeding women by recommending consumption of at least 8 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.

“Eating fish with lower levels of mercury provides numerous health and dietary benefits,” Nancy Stoner, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water said in a statement. “This updated advice will help pregnant women and mothers make informed decisions about the right amount and right kinds of fish to eat during important times in their lives and their children’s lives.”

Under the long-awaited, proposed new guidelines, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to eat a minimum of 8 ounces and no more than 12 ounces of fish with low levels of mercury, including shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.

It is the first time that the EPA and Food and Drug Administration have issued advice on the minimum amount of fish that pregnant women should eat. The previous advice, issued in 2004, included only maximum amounts to protect their fetuses from the harmful effects of mercury.

As in the old recommendations, pregnant and nursing women are told to avoid high mercury fish: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark; swordfish and king mackerel.

The agencies also reiterated their specific recommendations for limits on albacore (or white) tuna: no more than 6 ounces a week. Advice about consumption of tuna has been highly controversial, with the fishing industry criticizing any recommended limits and health advocacy groups pushing for the FDA and EPA to add it to the list of fish to avoid.

You can read more about the fish-consumption advisories here, but it’s worth remembering — especially as coalfield political leaders continue their campaign of misinformation about EPA efforts to better control power plant pollution — that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels is a major source of mercury contamination of our waterways (see also here, here and here).