EPA is issuing a national advisory concerning risks associated with mercury
in freshwater fish caught by friends and family. The groups most vulnerable to
the effects of mercury pollution include: women who are pregnant or may become
pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. To protect against the risks of
mercury in fish caught in freshwaters, EPA is recommending that these groups
limit fish consumption to one meal per week for adults (6 ounces of cooked fish,
8 ounces uncooked fish) and one meal per week for young children (2 ounces
cooked fish or 3 ounces uncooked fish).
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is present throughout the
environment and in plants and animals. Most mercury pollution is released into
the air and then falls directly onto waterways or is deposited onto land where
it can be washed into the water. Mercury concentrations in air are usually low
and of little direct concern. But when mercury enters the water, biological
processes transform it into a highly toxic form - methylmercury. Methylmercury
accumulates in fish, with larger fish generally accumulating higher levels of
Freshwater fish from contaminated waters have been shown to have particularly
high levels of methylmercury, posing potential risks for recreational anglers
and people who regularly fish for food. A recent report by the National Academy
of Sciences (NAS, Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury, July 2000)
confirms that methylmercury is a potent toxin and concludes that the babies of
women who consume large amounts of fish when pregnant are at greater risk for
changes in their nervous system that can affect their ability to learn. EPA and
the states are working to reduce mercury pollution in the environment, but
because methylmercury is very persistent, it will be many years before
methylmercury levels in fish and the environment are reduced.
Is it safe to eat fish?
Fish is an excellent source of nutrition and most people have no reason to
limit their fish consumption. Because the developing nervous system of a baby
and young child is more sensitive to methylmercury’s harmful effects than the
more fully developed nervous system of an older child or adult, EPA is
recommending that women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing
mothers, and young children limit their consumption of fish caught by family and
friends to one meal per week (six ounces cooked fish or eight ounces uncooked
fish per adult; two ounces cooked fish or three ounces uncooked fish per young
child). Other family members do not need to
follow this advice, but should follow recommendations of their state or local
health department on the amount of fish caught by friends and family that is
safe to eat.
Why is EPA issuing national fish consumption advice?
EPA is issuing this advice for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant,
nursing mothers, and young children to raise awareness of the potential harm
that high levels of methylmercury in fish can cause to a baby or child’s
developing brain and nervous system. This advice provides guidance on the amount
of fish caught by friends and family that these groups can eat to keep
methylmercury from reaching harmful levels.
Does this advice cover fish from stores and restaurants?
EPA's advice only covers freshwater fish caught by friends and family from local waters. The Food & Drug Administration is issuing a companion methylmercury advisory on the hazard posed by certain commercial fish purchased in stores and restaurants. For more information on mercury in commercial fish, please contact the Food and Drug Administration or visit their web site at www.cfsan.fda.gov on the Internet.
How is this national advice different from current advice on consumption of
For years many state and local agencies have monitored their waters and
issued advice to limit or avoid certain fish due to high levels of methylmercury
or other pollutants. This national advice applies in all states and territories
and applies only to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing
mothers, and young children. Because some local waters may have very high levels
of mercury, check with your state and local health department to see if they
recommend eating even less freshwater fish than this national
Where can I get more information?
To get more information on EPA's fish advisory program, visit EPA's fish advisory web site at www.epa.gov/ost/fish/ or contact Jeff Bigler at 202-260-1305; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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