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.
Environmental NGOs are urging the European Commission (EC) to restrict sales of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, showing how they can be feasibly replaced with lighting emitting diode (LED) lamps. “The time is ripe for an EC decision to take CFLs (<30W) off the shelves throughout the EU by 2018,” said EEB’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo. Since the US Energy Department’s lifecycle analysis shows that LEDs far surpass CFLs in efficiency and other environmental impacts, advocates are also calling for US retailers to follow IKEA’s lead in ending CFL sales. “LEDs are environmentally preferable to CFLs from a lifecycle perspective,” said Alicia Culver, RPN’s director. “LEDs use less energy, last three times longer than CFLs. They are a practical and affordable alternative for most general purpose lighting applications.” Workers can be exposed to mercury when manufacturing, transporting, installing, recycling or disposing of CFLs and other fluorescent lamps. Pregnant women and toddlers may be exposed above safe levels when CFLs are broken in rooms without ventilation. “LEDs don’t contain mercury and are becoming more cost competitive, especially when energy use and higher CFL disposal costs are factored in,” said MPP director Bender.
60 NGOs recently urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to convince FDA to conform with US policy to reduce amalgam use. The groups assert that a 2009 FDA rule is impeding mercury reduction and contrary to the position taken by the U.S. during negotiations: “The United States supports further consideration of dental amalgam by the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee such that the agreement is able to achieve the phase down, with the goal of eventual phase out by all Parties, of mercury amalgam upon the development and availability of affordable, viable alternatives.” However, FDA takes the opposite view, as articulated in its 2009 rule and unaltered since that time. “As explained in our letter, FDA is fundamentally at odds with the Convention’s provisions to “phase down the use of dental amalgam, ” as well as the U.S. Government’s position,” said MPP director Bender. “The difference in approach reflects the Convention’s consideration of dental amalgam’s full life cycle and the lack of any environmental assessment by FDA.” According to the latest U.S. Geological Survey report, dental amalgam is now one of the largest consumer uses of mercury in the U.S. today.
A new federal advisory promoting seafood fails to protect sensitive populations from methylmercury exposure, according to an analysis by Environmental Working Group and MPP. “There’s something really ‘fishy’ about the agencies’ fixation on health benefit studies while ignoring the latest science on methylmercury exposure,” said MPP Director Bender in a statement.
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.”
Following a letter from 21 US Senators, an August 15th letter from scientists, MDs and NGOs urged President Obama to instruct federal agencies to update the consumer advisory on methylmercury . Our letter echoed the earlier Senators letter:“This is the third time a wide bipartisan group of Senators has written to you requesting your help removing roadblocks to finalizing the FDA advice to pregnant women on seafood consumption. Pregnant women, physicians and medical professionals, however, are still waiting despite numerous commitments in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to finalize the FDA advisory.” Earlier this year, we sent a similar letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, but the response back from FDA was not promising.
An American Public Health Association panel met last month to review policy proposals and soundly rejected one to “preserve” the use of dental amalgam. The resolution was backed by the American Dental Association, who claimed that the proposal was a “recent policy decision” by the APHA . The panel suggested that any revised resolution “…be reflective for support of eventual phase out of the use of dental amalgam” and presented comments from several APHA sections:
• “The proposed policy statement presents biased and one-sided arguments” on environmental impacts,
• “Recent studies verifying the benefits of mercury-free alternatives over amalgam (in terms of longevity, accessibility, and the environment) are neglected,”
• “Scientific evidence, as well as updated data from the United Nations Environment Program and other reputable sources, indicates that amalgam is a significant source of mercury pollution and largely cannot be prevented except by source reduction,” and
• “The proposed resolution mischaracterizes its interaction with the Minamata Convention on Mercury that was recently negotiated by the United States and 139 other countries… In particular, the treaty endorsed a phase-down of the use of dental amalgam, which the resolution authors explicitly fail to endorse.”
Further, the submittal from the Environment section noted that “…the proposed resolution is plainly inconsistent with the Association’s comprehensive, precautionary approach to anthropogenic mercury use. ”