Sunday, August 23, 2009

Don't eat the fish, they might give you autism

The U.S. Geological Survey released the results of a new study this past week that looked at the mercury contamination in the environment. The study looked at 291 streams from around the country and found that mercury contamination is present in all of them.

The bad news in all of this is that no fish is safe - every single fish that was sampled had a detectable level of mercury. One in every four fish sampled had a level of mercury that exceeded the EPA's safety limit. Two thirds of the fish exceeded the EPA's level of concern for fish eating mammals.

The good news? The remaining fish would not be that bad to eat - as long as you didn't eat too many at once and only ate them every once and a while. This finding is also expected to help grow the fish population because more fishermen will participant in the catch and release program. Those who don't choose to participate and actually eat their fish? Well, they won't last that long so nothing to worry about there.

So where does all of this mercury come from? According to the study it comes from atmospheric sources and, to a lesser extent, other source like mining operations. The main culprit seems to be coal burning power plants - they emit a form mercury into the air which then ends up in the water supply and works its way up the food chain. By the time the fish end up on our tables they are full of methylmercury goodness.

OK, so there really is no good news here and nothing to be joking about. Methylmercury in the environment is no laughing matter and can cause serious health problems. It is a neurotoxin that can seriously mess you up if you are exposed to too much of it or happen to belong to a vulnerable population.

This is why the EPA suggests limiting fish intake for young children and women who are or might become pregnant or are nursing. According to the EPA, exposure to methylmercury in the womb and shortly after can result in impaired neurological development, damage to the nervous system, and problems with cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

So, if you have kids, what you really should be watching out for is the fish. I mean just look at that list of things it can cause - it almost sounds as bad as autism. It is a good thing that we know that there is absolutely no relation between mercury exposure and autism otherwise I might start to worry about eating fish.

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