Catching the Limit

Mercury Contamination of America's Food

December 17, 1997

Catching the Limit: News Release - EPA: 1.6 Million Kids, Moms At Risk of Mercury Poisoning


Warnings in 37 States Against Fresh-Caught Fish
Canned Tuna, Other Foods Also Contaminated


Fish from more than 1,660 U.S. waterways are so contaminated with mercury that they should not be eaten or eaten only in limited amounts, according to federal health warnings analyzed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Children and mothers-to-be are at highest risk, not only from fresh fish but from mercury contamination of canned tuna and other foods.

The EWG study lists all fish advisories from mercury contamination in 37 states, as well as mercury levels found in supermarket products such as tuna, fish sticks, even instant oatmeal. (See tables). The study will be released nationwide on Wednesday, Dec. 17 - two days before the EPA sends Congress an report estimating that more than 1.6 million women and children may face serious health risks from mercury-contaminated food.

"The EPA report says that eating just half a can of tuna a day could exceed safe levels for mercury exposure," said EWG analyst Jacqueline Savitz. "The solution is not to stop eating fish, but to minimize the sources of mercury contamination."

Among EWG's findings:

* In nine states -- Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont -- mercury contamination is so widespread that statewide advisories against fish consumption are in effect.

* Of other states, mercury contamination is most widespread in the Midwest: Minnesota leads the nation with 693 fish consumption advisories, following by Wisconsin with 389 and Indiana with 116.

* FDA tests found that 100 percent of samples of oil-packed canned tuna were contaminated with mercury. Mercury was found in more than 90 percent of commercial haddock and shrimp, and in 75 percent of frozen fish sticks.

The EPA report defines the nation's mercury problem, but the agency has failed to enact adequate regulations to prevent mercury pollution that results from incineration of medical and municipal waste. A national coalition, Health Care Without Harm, is calling on medical facilities to rapidly phase out the unnecessary use of mercury.