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Mercury in Tuna Plummets As Coal-Fired Power Drops

Monday, December 5, 2016

A bit of good news for seafood lovers: Scientists at Stony Brook University recently reported a notable drop in mercury concentrations in bluefin tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine over the past decade.

Nicolas Fisher, the study’s lead author, told the The Washington Post that the decline of mercury by nearly 20 percent in the tuna parallels the decreasing amounts of mercury emitted into the air from U.S. coal-fired power plants. This makes sense. Coal power is responsible for nearly half of the mercury emissions in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules have forced power plants to install technologies to remove mercury, and the long-lived, carnivorous bluefin tuna is an indicator of mercury concentrations throughout the food chain.

This decline is especially good news for women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.

EWG recently studied 254 American women who eat fish frequently and found that nearly 40 percent of the mercury in their diets came from tuna. About half of this is from tuna steaks and sushi – the way bluefin tuna is typically served. The other half is from canned albacore and light tuna, which have lower mercury concentrations than bluefin but are more widely eaten.

Even though most American women eat very little fish, those who eat species with high mercury levels may put their children at risk. Nearly one-third of participants in the EWG study had mercury levels that exceeded the current warning level set by the EPA for women of childbearing age.

If these women were to become pregnant, the mercury in their bodies would pose a risk to their children’s brain development. Mercury exposure during pregnancy and early life have been shown to cause lower IQs and learning problems in children when they get older.

Worse yet, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled a strong commitment to coal power and could weaken the rules that prompted this decline in mercury in tuna.

This makes little sense – not only for the safety of seafood, but for air quality. In addition to mercury, dirty coal plants also emit most of the greenhouse gases in the U.S. These plants also spew harmful soot, which cause asthma attacks, respiratory disease and death.

Both the mercury rules and President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan are projected to provide four to eight times more benefits, including preventing disease and death, compared to the cost of cleaner energy.

Americans must fight to uphold environmental standards that clean up our food supply, reduce the toxic toll on our oceans, minimize global warming and protect the brain development of future generations.

If you're worried about exposure to mercury in seafood check out our Seafood Calculator ​to create a custom seafood list of options that are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, sustainably produced and lowest in mercury.


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