EWG and MPP received extensive media coverage after releasing results measuring mercury hair levels in over 250 women who eat two or more seafood meals per week, the amount EPA/FDA recommend. Testing indicates 29% exceed the EPA guideline for mercury exposure during pregnancy (1 ppm) and 59% exceed a more protective upper limit of 0.58 ppm recommended by scientists. Tuna was a major source of participant’s mercury exposure (40% of estimated ingestion) which is consistent with MPP’s (now updated) analysis, using FDA’s data, which shows tuna accounts for 45% of mercury in the US seafood supply. Notably only 17% of the mercury in participants’ diets was from species identified in EPA/FDA’s draft advice, which is incomplete because it fails to provide enough detailabout which mercury-laden species to limit or avoid (i.e. tuna) and which are low in mercury and higher in omega-3s.
On behalf of CSPI and MPP, Earthjustice recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against FDA for failing to respond to our 2011 petition requesting the Agency to give consumers clear, accurate and accessible information about mercury in seafood (as recent press reports explain.) The lawsuit seeks a court-ordered deadline since under its own regulations, FDA had 180 days to respond and its failure to do so violates federal law. In 2004, FDA acknowledged MeHg exposure risks when it issued an online advisory based on now outdated research. Several recent studies suggest adverse effects at exposure levels 10-fold lower than those considered acceptable a decade ago.
As world governments bask in the celebration prepared by the government of Japan for the newly minted Minamata Convention on Mercury, ZMWG is calling on all countries – including Japan – to help stem the rise of Asia as the world’s mercury trading hub. “Traders are increasingly circumventing the export bans imposed by the EU and US by seeking safe havens, particularly in Asia,” said Richard Gutierrez, director of Ban Toxics in the Philippines. Under the Minamata Convention, the trade in mercury will be controlled, largely through an informed consent procedure. However, 50 countries will need to ratify the treaty before it comes into legal force. “While there are alternatives to mercury and controls for major sources, there is no alternative to international cooperation,” said Michael Bender, ZMWG Coordinator. ”Let’s turn these good intentions into meaningful action on the ground so that developing countries don’t bear the brunt of toxic trade.”
A new ZMWG report highlights the importance of the new treaty being ratified as soon as possible to reduce global pollution and exposure to mercury. The treaty will be signed next week near Minamata, where a major mercury poisoning incident was first discovered. NGOs from 9 countries participated in the study in order to ascertain mercury hair levels in women. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of the samples exceeded the widely recognized U.S. EPA guideline of 1 μg/g. In 4 countries, a high percentage exceeded the threshold, specifically: 71% in Japan; 64% in Spain; 36% in Mauritius; and 23% in Côte d’Ivoire. “The results indicate that the mercury hair levels in Japanese women were significantly higher than the other countries tested,” said Dr. Takashi Yorifuji, Associate Professor at Okayama University Graduate School of Environmental and Life Science, Japan. “Risk of adverse health effects in children following in utero methylmercury exposures is well documented and rises as maternal exposure increases.”
Joined by the EU, Canada and other developed countries, the U.S. opposed a separate health provision during the fourth (of five) mercury treaty negotiation earlier this week in Punta del Este, Uruguay. “This is an example of north–south double standard over whether health issues will be addressed equitably,” stated Michael Bender , MPP director, who provided a statement on behalf of the Zero Mercury Working Group during the negotiation. “Mercury is a basic human rights issue. Health strategies to address reducing exposure to mercury must be included in this treaty.”
The findings of a new WHO/FAO Report on Benefits and Risks of Seafood Consumption were challenged today by MPP as missing a key opportunity to advise governments about mercury risk from fish consumption. “Surprisingly, this expert group failed to address exposure concerns about fish with higher mercury levels, which have led to consumption advisories in the U.S. and around the world,” said MPP director Bender, in a statement. “The concept of ‘net benefits’ is severely flawed, because benefits accrue to everyone who eats seafood, but risks are concentrated in the small fraction of the population who regularly choose high-mercury fish,” said Dr. Ned Groth, an MPP science consultant. “It is not acceptable to tolerate significant harm to a minority just because the large majority are better off.”
The European Environmental Bureau and MPP recently wrote a letter urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to correct inaccuracies, misleading and incorrect statements before finalizing its meeting report. Unfortunately, the draft report’s bias is already being diffused on various pro-amalgam websites, including one from Australiaand the other from the USA. Among other things, the letter encourages WHO to correct for the record that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss alternatives to amalgam, and not debate or assert the safety of amalgam, — and instead to highlight opportunities for “phasing down” the amalgam use, as WHO discussed in Stockholm in June.
A key U.S. House Committee today adopted an amendment offered by Congressman Dennis Kucinich to H.R. 5504, which requires USDA to inform schools and those in WIC programs to avoid higher mercury fish. “There is no reason for the government to help kids grow up healthy with one hand while impairing them with the other,”said Kucinich. In addition, MPP and Got Mercury! recently filed comments on the USDA’s draft Committee Report , outlining steps to reduce mercury exposure.
Thirty academic scientists, medical doctors and consumer advocates wrote to FDA and EPA last Friday, urging them to strengthen the Federal fish consumption advisory for mercury and also to do a better job of warning consumers. “Recent research shows that both beneficial effects of fish nutrients and harm from mercury exposure occur in a baby’s developing brain when a pregnant woman eats ordinary amounts of fish,” said Edward Groth III, PhD, a Mercury Policy Project science consultant. “There is no evidence of a threshold for the harmful effects of mercury, and even the amount in a single can of tuna should probably be avoided.”