Consumers Deserve to Know about Seafood Contaminants

Tim Fitzgerald, Sr. Policy Specialist, Oceans

Tim Fitzgerald, Scientist and Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

If you can choose whether to have tartar sauce with your fish, why not high levels of mercury?

The Washington Post ran a story last week that said fish consumption advisories for pollutants like mercury do more harm than good by discouraging people from eating fish. Tuesday, the newspaper published a letter in response from me and Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and member of EDF’s Board of Trustees.

Eating seafood is an important part of a healthy diet. However, that does not justify ignoring the fact that some types of fish contain high concentrations of environmental contaminants. Just last week, a new study came out that documented significant losses of IQ points from the American population as a result of elevated blood mercury levels (and other environmental contaminants).

Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector website provides easy-to-digest information about more than 200 types of commonly eaten seafood. This includes advice on the environmental impacts of fishing and fish farming, along with safe consumption levels for each type of fish. In short, we want to help conscientious consumers choose fish that is good for them and the ocean.

Our health advisories do err on the side of caution, but rightfully so. Many states are battling contamination problems in their waters, and consult with EPA about an appropriate advisory program to protect their local anglers. Academic researchers continue to document negative health effects from mercury at levels lower than previously thought. As a result, there are even some in the scientific community that believe EPA’s reference dose for mercury still isn’t low enough.

While empowering consumers is an important step, we can’t stop there. We need to address the source of contaminants that can wind up in our seafood. The EPA’s plan to crack down on mercury pollution, which primarily comes from the smokestacks at coal-fired power plants, is a step in the right direction.

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