Mercury Exposure

Exposure and contamination from mercury happens through inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption.  Generally, the most prevalent of these exposures comes from eating fish contaminated with highly toxic, organic methylmercury although exposure also occurs through dental fillings, vaccines and occupational exposure (i.e. small scale gold mining).  Other exposures add to one’s body burden, increasing the likelihood of health impacts – the most notable being cardiovascular, developmental and neurologic impacts, especially to the developing mind and body.  Links provided have information related to mercury exposure and protecting you and your family’s health.    


Reports by MPP and Partner Organizations

Hold the Mercury: How to Avoid Mercury When Buying Fish, Oceana and Mercury Policy Project, February 2008.

Hold the Mercury includes the results of mercury tests on 94 fish samples collected from sushi bars and grocery stores from cities across the country.  The high mercury levels found in fresh tuna and sushi as well as swordfish demonstrate the need to post the Food and Drug Administration’s advice about mercury in seafood at grocery stores. 


IS OUR TUNA “FAMILY-SAFE”? Mercury in America’s Favorite Fish, Defenders of Wildlife, Mercury Policy Project, Center for Science in the Public Interest, July 2006.

Testing by Defenders of Wildlife shows higher-than-expected levels of mercury in canned light tuna.  The report recommends precautionary measures to protect low income and vulnerable Americans from exposure to mercury.


What Patients Don’t Know: Dentists’ Sweet Tooth for Mercury, Mercury Policy Project, Consumers for Dental Choice, New England Zero Mercury Campaign, Sierra Club California, Clean Water Action California, February, 2006.

The report recommends that consumers be provided with information about mercury fillings and alternatives, so dental patients have the same informed choice as patients in doctors’ offices for other procedures; dental clinics should warn patients, particularly pregnant women and young children, to avoid mercury exposure; the dental industry should no longer be allowed to burden the environment with mercury pollution; and dental insurance plans should provide equal coverage for mercury and non-mercury fillings, thereby assuring the patient and dentist the freedom to choose.


Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption: Yes, Mercury is a Problem, Prepared by Edward Groth, PhD, For Oceana and Mercury Policy Project, December 2005.

The report summarizes decades of scientific research indicating that mercury levels in fish are high enough to pose health risks to moderate and heavy fish eaters and exposes weaknesses in recent reports from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA), which were funded by the tuna industry and other fishing interests.


Fair Warning: Why Grocery Stores Should Tell Parents About Mercury in Fish, Oceana, Mercury Policy Project, Clean Water Action, New England Zero Mercury Campaign, September 2005.

This report provides results of testing which confirm that store-bought swordfish and tuna contain levels of mercury that the federal government has determined may be hazardous to human health, particularly children. The analysis was more comprehensive than any recently performed by FDA and included samples purchased at popular supermarket chains such as Safeway, Shaw’s, Albertsons, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods–all stores that are required to post mercury warnings in California.


Other Reports

Public Health and Economic Consequences of Methyl Mercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain, Environmental Health Perspectives, Leonardo Trasande, Philip J. Landrigan, and Clyde Schechter, May 2005.

Using national blood mercury data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study’s authors found that between 316,588 and 637,233 children each year have cord blood mercury levels at a level associated with loss of IQ. They then estimated that the resulting loss of intelligence causes diminished economic productivity that persists over the entire lifetime of these children amounts to $8.7 billion annually (range, $2.2-43.8 billion). Of this total, $1.3 billion (range, $0.1-6.5 billion) each year is attributable to mercury emissions from American power plants, according to the study. In their abstract, the authors state that this significant toll threatens the economic health and security of the United States and should be considered in the debate on mercury pollution controls.


Mercury in Commercial Fish: Optimizing Individual Choices to Reduce Risk, Environmental Health Perspectives, Joanna Burger, Alan H. Stern, and Michael Gochfeld, March 2005.

The study finds that most of the fish sold in supermarkets and fish stores in New Jersey contain more mercury than FDA estimates. Sea bass, whiting, shrimp, and tuna contained higher mean mercury levels than those levels estimated by the FDA on its seafood information website. The mean level found in croaker exceeded the FDA estimate nearly threefold and fresh tuna was up to twice as high as the federal government expects.


Mercury, Fish Oils, and Risk of Acute Coronary Events and Cardiovascular Disease, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in Men in Eastern Finland, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, January 2005.

According to this article middle-aged men may be at greater risk of having a heart attack if they eat mercury-contaminated fish. Researchers at the University of Kuopio in Finland monitored the diet and health of 2,682 Finnish men. The researchers found that middle aged men had a 50 – 70 percent higher risk of heart disease or cardiovascular disease, or having a heart attack,  if they had elevated levels of mercury.