March 23, 20004 States Issue Warning for Mercury in Atlantic Mackerel
Raliegh, NC (SafetyAlerts) - North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia and Florida joined together today to issue a joint health advisory
concerning high levels of mercury in large king mackerel.
The state health officials say that king mackerel
less than 33 inches fork-length (from nose to where the tail forks) are safe to eat, but
king mackerel over 39 inches should not be eaten.
People should also limit their consumption of 33
to 39 inch fish.
Women of child bearing age and children age twelve
and younger should eat no more than one 8-ounce portion a month and other adults should
eat no more than four 8-ounce portions a month.
"We're working together to protect the public
health," said North Carolina toxicologist Dr. Luanne Williams. "All four states
shared data and conducted a joint risk assessment. Our findings were clear--large king
mackerel contain unhealthy levels of mercury and our citizens need to limit consumption of
large king mackerel."
Williams said that mercury can damage the brains
of unborn babies and young children. "That's why this advisory is particularly
important for children up to twelve years old and women of childbearing age," she
Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) sampled king
mackerel from NC waters through 1998-99. "We collected a wide range of king mackerel
from both commercial and recreational fisheries," said Dr. Louis Daniel, with DMF.
"The findings were consistent. Large king mackerel contained high levels of
mercury. But, fish don't know state boundaries. The king mackerel population off of North
Carolina's coast ranges to Florida."
Based on those findings, North Carolina officials
checked with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida officials. Their data was consistent with
North Carolina's findings.
Mercury in large, long-lived fish is an
international problem. Many states have issued advisories in the past decade. Research
continues into the cause of the problem. Because high levels have been found in fish from
relatively remote areas, researchers suspect that the mercury, which comes from industrial
sources like coal-burning industries, chlorine manufacturing and waste incinerators as
well as natural sources, is often spread through the air and deposited in water. Mercury
can also come from some mining operations. As bigger fish eat smaller fish, the bigger
fish get higher levels of mercury. The longer the big fish's life span, the more likely
that it will accumulate mercury.