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.
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 In 2004, FDA acknowledged MeHg exposure risks when it issued an online advisory based on now outdated research.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.
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.
After four years of deliberation, a new global regime rises today that will govern toxic mercury worldwide. “Adoption of a global legal agreement on mercury is a major accomplishment,” said Michael T. Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group in an overview and a press release.“Yet the instrument is hampered by weak controls on mercury emissions from major sources like coal-fired power plants.” For more details, see a short summary of the key articles of the treaty. A more extensive summary explains more details along with some media coverage.
Over the past decade, awareness about the risks of mercury in certain fish has increased and pregnant women in particular have been alerted to shop carefully and a recent study indicates that over one-third of American’s mercury exposure is from tuna. But what about the risks from fish children consume at school? In it’s 2011 Annual Report to the Governor, Legislature and Citizens of the State of Vermont, the state mercury advisory committee recommended: “….collaboration between the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Education to communicate with Vermont schools and raise awareness among faculty, staff, and parents about the methyl mercury exposure risk to young children of consuming excessive amounts of tuna fish in school lunch programs,” see: page 2 and 5 of the 2011 report. To further investigate this, MPP announced today in a statement that it is co-releasing with other groups a first ever report on testing for mercury in tuna sold to schools, “Tuna Surprise,” which received extensive media coverage.