So how did that mercury get into the fish?

June 10, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.


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).

6 Responses to “So how did that mercury get into the fish?”

  1. PPG is at the top of world mercury polluters..Natrium, WV…the Ohio River has been used as a waste dump. Would it not be simple to test the people to establish levels of contamination in people drinking the water? Collect health statistics for birth defects and other known effects of mercury contamination? Why not?

  2. Bill Howley says:

    Here is a very thorough report on sources and impacts of mercury in the marine world –

  3. armored face conveyor says:

    I don’t want to be accused of a campaign of misinformation so attached is a link to an EPA publication. The harmful effects of mercury in fish are canceled out by -wait for it – selenium.


  4. greenspace says:

    Well, according to EPA, nationwide most of it didn’t come from coal plants. See

    “Between 1990-1993 and 2008, annual nationwide air emissions of mercury decreased from 246 tons per year to 61 tons per year, a decrease of 75 percent (Exhibit 1). The source categories accounting for the majority of the reduced mercury emissions over this time frame are medical waste incinerators, municipal waste combustors, and utility coal boilers. In 2008, coal-burning power plants were the largest anthropogenic source of mercury emissions to the air in the U.S., accounting for 49 percent of all domestic anthropogenic mercury emissions that year.”

    And their data stops at 2008. Lots of the older, less efficient coal plants have retired since 2008, and more will retire or upgrade controls in the very near future to comply with the new Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) standards.

    Bottom line is that huge progress has been made in controls of air pollutants, and the progress continues. Folks often fail to recognize this.

  5. Dianne Bady says:

    Is it paranoid to wonder why EPA is both

    1. Urging pregnant women to eat more fish (“low” mercury of course, which is fine, just fine)

    2. Issuing their proposed new selenium criterion and testing methods which would give the mountaintop removal industry the ability to violate selenium limits without a practical way for citizens to test whether the selenium legal limits are being violated?

  6. Dianne Bady says:

    Of course EPA does put limits on their recommendations of low mercury fish consumption. So not really fine to eat a lot of it.

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