Global mercury concentrations increasing, and more harmful than we thought

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Mercury in fish

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Two international reports released on Tuesday have stated that the health benchmarks currently in place for mercury levels in fish are outdated and should be strengthened.

The first report, conducted at the non-profit ecological research group Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), collected thousands of scientific papers from around the globe to see the extend of mercury contamination in marine life worldwide. The researchers found that “mercury contamination is ubiquitous in global marine ecosystems and is more severe than realized.” The report found that harvested species (e.g. shrimp, cod, haddock, herring, sardines) have low mercury concentrations, but long-lived pelagic species (e.g. marlin, Pacific bluefin tuna, the wide-ranging swordfish, the king mackerel) had high concentrations and surpassed safe levels.

The second report, released by an international coalition of environmental campaign groups, the Zero Mercury Working Group, found that marine life that is frequently harvested and consumed by people have high mercury concentrations that surpass safety levels that were deemed safe years ago.

What’s the harm in mercury? A 2006  study from Poland found that prenatal mercury exposure delayed development in children and a 2008 study  found that elevated methylmercury exposure adversely affected cognitive development and in turn, psychomotor development, verbal and full IQ. What’s more, experts believe that mercury is toxic and detrimental to humans when developing the nervous system and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, exposure in the womb to methylmercury can impair neurological development.

“The current safety levels are based on science from a decade ago,” said Dr. Edward Groth an adviser to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, to Global News. “The reference dose is supposed to provide a margin of safety and it doesn’t.”

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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