A new EPA study shows that blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent between a survey done in 1999-2000 and follow up surveys conducted 2001-2010. Fish consumption levels changed little during the full survey period and blood mercury levels changed little during the 2001-2010.
So what caused the drop starting in 2001?
Betsy Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology for the EPA’s Office of Water, told NBC News that a public outreach campaign succeeded in getting the message out:
“In 2001, the EPA and the FDA jointly put out a national fish advisory to women of childbearing age, saying here’s what to avoid, but we still encourage you to eat fish because it’s really healthy,” Southerland said.
According to an EPA press release, the agencies did extensive outreach in 2001 and 2004, even translating materials into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Cambodian and Hmong.
Here's a quick primer on mercury poisoning. Most of the exposure we get is through the organic compound methylmercury. That’s what’s found in fish. High levels of methylmercury intake can cause serious health problems like neurological impairment for fetuses and young children who are exposed through the womb. (Lots more information on health effects from mercury exposure here.)
The toxic methylmercury in fish is caused by air and water pollution. To address this, EPA has issued the Mercury and Air Toxics rule which sets standards for limiting mercury emissions from power plants. They are also working to establish new effluent rules for steam electric power plants which, according to the EPA’s website, “contribute over half of all toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters by all industrial categories currently regulated in the United States.”
Here’s what EPA and FDA advise for fish consumption:
-- Toni Tabora-Roberts