New Report Cites Dangerous Findings for Mothers-To-Be

Feature story - February 8, 2006

They say "you are what you eat," but this country must be having an identity crisis because no one knows what to eat anymore.  Half the nation believes that bread is a nutritious, comforting food and the other half believes it should be avoided like the plague.  Competing diet theories have polarized America in a manner reminiscent of the 2000 election, and fish is no exception.  On one hand, fish is chock-full of essential proteins, vitamins and minerals.  It can help lower your cholesterol and even aid in weight loss (hold the butter).  But our new study confims that there's another element present in fish that won't be found on any food pyramid.  The fish we consume contains mercury and it is affecting our health - especially when it comes to women and children.

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical that can cause a laundry list of health problems. Personal exposure to mercury can lead to the inability to focus and pay attention, delayed language development, impaired memory, vision and motor coordination and problems processing information.  These symptoms are more pronounced when mercury exposure occurs in the womb.

Power plants are the biggest source of mercury pollution in the country. After mercury is released into the air, it contaminates rivers, lakes and oceans and eventually the fish that we consume.  But that's not stopping the Bush administration from attempting to evade the Clean Air Act by proposing new regulations that cater to the energy companies.

Talk About a Bad Hair Day

For almost two years, we've been working with the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) at the University of North Carolina-Asheville to conduct the largest mercury hair sampling project in history.  By analyzing a snip of hair from participants all over the country, we are able to determine an individual's personal mercury level. 

Living in Hawaii, my family and friends eat a lot of fish and seafood, and feel relatively safe eating locally caught fish, because we are separated from the mainland by 2,500 miles of ocean. I was shocked that my test showed that my mercury level was twice the recommended amount.  It is a tragedy that a significant part of the diet here may no longer be safe for children and women, in large part because of the neligent practices of factories that are thousands of miles away.  Hopefully this real data will be a step toward reintroducing the voices of people like me and my family into the decision-making that continues to affect all of us, everywhere.

--Aarin Gross

Kaneohe, HIHear from more of the study participants.

The results are in, and the findings are worse than we anticipated: one in five women of childbearing age that were tested have mercury levels exceeding the EPA's recommended limit.

"In the samples we analyzed, the greatest single factor influencing mercury exposure was the frequency of fish consumption," said Dr. Steve Patch, Co-director of EQI and co-author of the report.  "We saw a direct relationship between people's mercury levels and the amount of store-bought fish, canned tuna fish or locally caught fish people consumed."

People shouldn't have to choose between eating the fish they love and living a mercury-free life.  To stop this contamination we must eliminate the pollution at its source.  We need new laws to clean up these power plants and we have to start investing in clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar today.

Take Action! Tell Congress that America doesn't need more coal and mercury to be spewed into our environment, our waterways and our bodies.

Determine your own mercury level.  It's too late for your results to be included in our study, but you can still test yourself with our do-it-yourself kit.

Read the full report.