August 21, 2009

How much mercury was in last night's dinner?

It's Hard to Believe . . .

The U.S. Geological Survey just got my attention. EVERY single fish they tested (from 300 streams and rivers across the country) contained at least a bit of mercury. So sport fishermen (and women), listen up.

What does it mean if your dinner was tainted with this well-known neurotoxin? If you eat fish from American rivers and streams quite frequently, you should be concerned about your nervous system being damaged. Remember the Mad Hatter? Mercury used to be used in hat manufacturing many years ago.

Mercury is very dangerous to fetuses. That's why the FDA and the EPA suggested in 2004 that women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant avoid fish with the highest levels of mercury--swordfish, shark (not on my diet!), and tuna steaks. But catfish is popular in many places.

See the Virginia Department of Health's fish advisories (colorful maps) showing mercury, PCBs, and other "not good-for-you-stuff." Where does most of this mercury come from? Emissions from coal-fired power plants! Yes, those plants that the coal industry likes to describe with that oxymoron phrase, "clean coal." Yet I remember watching Trenton, NJ folks catching AND KEEPING the catfish they caught from the Delaware River downstream from the coal-fired power plant there.

True, only a fourth of the fish tested contained mercury above the EPA's safety threshold, but that stuff is cumulative in your body. It increases as you move up the food chain, from the tiny minnow to we humans.

Now before you get paranoid about including fish in your diet, check out NOAA's website to help you find safe fish.

Otherwise, a good practice might be catch and release!