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March 23, 2000

4 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 explained.

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.

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