Radiation and Mercury in Fish: Should Americans be Concerned?
June 5, 2012 -- The May 29th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences reported that fish caught off the California coast in 2011 by
researchers from Stony Brook University in New York were contaminated
with radioactive waste from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power
The radioactive isotopes cesium-137 and cesium-134 were found in blue fin tuna at levels ten times higher than in the years prior to the accident, roughly four months after the waste was released into the ocean. Seven months after the accident, Japan’s Fisheries Agency reported broad-spread radioactive contamination (up to 100 percent) in fish caught both in Japanese coastal waters and hundreds of miles away.
Problems with Radioactive Waste Predate Fukushima
Even before Fukushima, fish have been shown to carry radioactive waste from the nuclear industry. Tests of salmon from six British supermarkets revealed contamination by the radioactive isotope technetium-99, which has also been found in lobster and shellfish, and has been traced to Britain’s Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, even though the fish were raised hundreds of miles away.
According to James Waczewski of Florida State University, author of Legal, Political, and Scientific Response to Ocean Dumping, the United States has dumped an estimated 112,000 containers of long-lived radioactive nuclear waste into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans at 30 different sites. A U.S. Senate ruling has since imposed a moratorium on this practice, but nuclear power plants continue to discharge radioactive waste-water into the world’s oceans daily.
No Fish from the Ocean Is Protected
Because ionizing radiation from nuclear waste is a carcinogen, radioactivity in fish is a disturbing reality. Yet even without the Fukushima disaster, the world’s fish supply has become a dubious source of nutrition. Over the last decade, many Americans, coaxed by their doctors and by literature from public health organizations, have made the switch from red meat to fish, which they were told is both heart healthy and good for brain function. Since 2000, the American Heart Association has distributed dietary guidelines advising Americans to consume at least two servings of fish each week. Health books and magazines have advised readers that fish is not just healthy but may afford them a slimmer figure, greater intellectual prowess, reduced risk of heart disease, and even glowing and radiant skin, among other benefits. At least one popular author has advised readers to consume fish twice a day. Yet there is a growing body of evidence in the scientific literature that challenges this advice.
Although we seldom see the waste floating on the surface of the oceans, if we’re willing to test it, we find that sea life has become our proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” clearly revealing the hidden truth of all that has infiltrated the world’s oceans. Some bodies of water are vastly more polluted than others, but one toxin, mercury, permeates the world’s oceans to such a degree that no fish (and no one who eats fish) is protected.
Mercury in Fish
Mercury is a toxic substance that can devastate the nervous system, leading to lower intelligence and compromised fine motor skills. It can deform fetuses, damage the heart, and even lead to death. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mercury is ubiquitous in fish.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that among women who had eaten three or more servings of fish in the prior 30 days, mercury levels were almost four times those of women who ate no fish.
One in six U.S. women now has so much mercury in her that her offspring are at risk of autism, blindness, mental retardation, and heart, liver, and kidney disease. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 50 percent of women of childbearing age exceed the EPA’s “reference dose,” or guideline, for mercury intake, and 25 percent ingest 200 percent of the reference dose.
For children who are exposed to mercury in utero or in the early days of life, the compromised attention span, intelligence, and coordination are irreversible. Statistics from the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that some 630,000 children are born annually with blood mercury levels sufficient for compromised brain function and heart damage simply because their moms ate fish.
No evidence exists to indicate that there’s a blood mercury threshold below which adverse neurological effects will not occur. Therefore, setting “acceptable levels” for exposure is a questionable policy.
Read the full story on One Green Planet
June 16, 2013 -- Constructive discussion will come from improving data collection procedures, understanding the role of the ocean environment, using techniques to manage the entire mix of stocks using simpler techniques, and working with fishermen as management partners.
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