Advisory Too Weak to Adequately Protect Public, Group Says
WASHINGTON (March 19, 2004) - The warning against eating mercury-contaminated fish announced today by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency is proof that we need to remove mercury from commerce, according to a top scientist at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). (The FDA-EPA advisory is posted here.)
Linda Greer, an environmental toxicologist at NRDC, also said the health advisory does not adequately warn parents about feeding their children albacore tuna, given the EPA's own data.
"This advisory does not do enough to help parents ensure that their children are not exposed to harmful amounts of mercury," said Dr. Greer. "But that obscures the larger issue. Just as we did with lead, we have to take mercury out of commerce. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is going in the wrong direction and is more concerned about protecting polluters than protecting our children."
Dr. Greer pointed out that the Bush administration recently took several actions addressing mercury pollution that will fail to protect the public from this potent neurotoxin. In mid-December, EPA issued a weak rule regulating how the chlorine industry handles mercury -- acknowledging that it cannot account for at least 65 tons of the chemical the plants may be emitting every year -- and eliminated pollution control requirements. And in late January, the EPA issued a proposed rule that would weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. (For more information about the sources of mercury pollution, click here.)
The advisory does not warn consumers about eating some of the most highly contaminated fish, said Dr. Greer. For example, it does not mention grouper and orange roughy, two popular fish dinner entrees that, according to recent FDA test data, have high mercury levels. It also does not provide specific advice for parents with young children. The advisory states that children should eat less than 12 ounces of fish a week, but does not specify how much less. Based on FDA data, a 22-pound toddler who eats 3 ounces (one-half of a 6-ounce can) of albacore tuna a week would ingest nearly four times the EPA's safe level, and an 88-pound child eating 6 ounces would be exposed to twice EPA's safe level. (For more information about how parents can protect their children, click here.)
Like lead, mercury damages the brain and nervous system. Mercury exposure can lead to developmental problems, learning disabilities, and mental retardation. Infants and children are at most risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA. One in 12 American women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood above the level that could pose a risk to a developing fetus.
Mercury pollution has contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries and wetlands -- 30 percent of the national total -- and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers and coastlines. Last year, 44 states issued warnings about eating mercury-contaminated fish, a 63 percent jump from 1993, when 27 states issued such warnings. Nineteen states have issued statewide advisories for mercury in freshwater lakes and rivers, and 10 states have issued advisories for canned tuna. "In light of these statistics," said Dr. Greer, "it's clear the Bush administration must take action to clean up mercury pollution."