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EPA Study: Mercury Levels in Women of Childbearing Age Drop 34 Percent


Mercury is a strong neurotoxin, especially dangerous for the human brain in development. For humans, not especially exposed to mercury through their occupation, contaminated water and food is often the major route of intake.  Unfortunately,  nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The risks from mercury depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish. Especially, piscivorous fish tends to accumulate mercury with age.
On the other hand, fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet because they are a source of high-quality protein, many vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and are mostly low in saturated fat. Therefore, a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can be beneficial for heart health and children's proper growth and development.

The new study:
Cover of the EPA report "Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age, NHANES (1999-2010)"For the peer-reviewed study, Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age, NHANES (1999-2010), EPA analyzed measurements of blood mercury levels from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

EPA found that blood methylmercury concentrations in women of childbearing age in the first survey cycle (1999-2000) were 1.5 times higher than the average concentration of the five subsequent cycles (2001- 2010). The average of blood mercury concentrations changed only slightly from 2001 to 2010, and remained below levels of concern for health.

Interestingly there was very little change in the amount of fish consumed during the survey period. The decrease in the ratio of mercury intake to fish consumed suggests that women may have shifted to eating types of fish with lower mercury concentrations.

EPA has taken significant actions toward reducing the mercury emission to the environment also meant to reduce the accumulation in the food web. In June 2013, the agency proposed new effluent guidelines for steam electric power plants, which currently account for more than half of all toxic pollutants discharged into streams, rivers and lakes from industrial facilities in the U.S. In February 2012, EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics standards for fossil-fuel fired power plants. However, compliance with this rule may take up to four years.

EPA and FDA advise:
EPA and the FDA issued national mercury advisories on fish consumption in 2001 and 2004.
Despite the efforts to reduce mercury pollution, both institutions continue to advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish that have high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. In order to reduce exposure to mercury and to get the benefit from the nutritional value, up to two average fish meals per week are recommended that are prepared from fish and shellfish that are low in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

As the agency admits, the study has one shortcoming: based on consumption of ocean fish,  the EPA study does not reflect trends in mercury levels in communities that depend on locally caught fish for subsistence.
One caveat: The EPA study was based on consumption of ocean fish. "It does not reflect trends in mercury levels in communities that depend on locally caught fish for subsistence," the agency said.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/greenliving/Womens-mercury-levels-dropping-.html#C8V6IzVHLhRSd5qh.99

The cited study:

U.S. EPA, Trends in Blood Mercury Concentrations and Fish Consumption Among U.S. Women of Childbearing Age NHANES, 1999-2010Final Report, July 2013, EPA-823-R-13-002

Related studies:

Sung Kyun Park, Sunghee Lee, Niladri Basu, Alfred Franzblau, Associations of blood and urinary mercury with hypertension in U.S. Adults: The NHANES 2003–2006, Environ. Res., 123 (2013) 25–32. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2013.02.003

Carolyn M. Gallagher, Jaymie R. Meliker, Mercury and thyroid autoantibodies in U.S. women, NHANES 2007–2008, Environ. Intern., 40 (2012) 39–43. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.11.014

Carolyn M. Gallagher, Jaymie R. Meliker, Total blood mercury, plasma homocysteine, methylmalonic acid and folate in US children aged 3–5 years, NHANES 1999–2004, Sci. Total Environ., 409 (2011) 1399–1405. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.01.021

Dan R. Laks, Assessment of chronic mercury exposure within the U.S. population, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006, BioMetals, 22/6 (2009) 1103-1114. doi: 10.1007/s10534-009-9261-0

Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Robert P. Clickner, Rebecca A. Jeffries, Adult Women's Blood Mercury Concentrations Vary Regionally in the United States: Association with Patterns of Fish Consumption (NHANES 1999-2004), Environ. Health Perspect., 117/1 (2009) 47-53. doi:10.1289/ehp.11674

Jane M. Hightower, Ann O’Hare, German T. Hernandez, Blood Mercury Reporting in NHANES: Identifying Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and Multiracial Groups, Environ. Health Perspect., 114 (2006) 173–175. doi:10.1289/ehp.8464

Esben Budtz-Jorgensen, Philippe Grandjean, Poul J. Jorgensen, Pál Weihe, Niels Keiding, Association between mercury concentrations in blood and hair in methylmercury-exposed subjects at different ages, Environ. Res. (U.S.A), 95 (2004) 385-393. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2003.11.001

Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Robert P. Clickner, Catherine C. Bodurow, Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000, Environ. Health Perspect., 112 (2004) 562–570. doi:10.1289/ehp.6587

Margaret A. McDowell, Charles F. Dillon, John Osterloh, P. Michael Bolger, Edo Pellizzari, Reshan Fernando, Ruben Montes de Oca, Susan E. Schober, Thomas Sinks, Robert L. Jones, Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Hair Mercury Levels in U.S. Children and Women of Childbearing Age: Reference Range Data from NHANES 1999–2000, Environ. Health Perspect., 112 (2004) 1165–1171. doi:10.1289/ehp.7046

  Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Robert P. Clickner, Catherine C. Bodurow, Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000, Environ. Health Perspect., 112/5 (2004) 562-570. doi:10.1289/ehp.6587

Marie E. Vahter, N.K. Mottet, L. Friberg, L. Birger, D.D. Shen, T. Burbacher, Speciation of mercury in the primate blood and brain following long-term exposure to methylmercury, Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol., 124/2 (1994) 221-229. doi:10.1006/taap.1994.1026

Related information

U.S. EPA: What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish
U.S. EPA: Fish Consumption Advisories
U.S. EPA: Mercury
GotMercury.org: Mercury calculator (calculate the mercury intake from fish meals)

 EVISA Resources

 EVISA Link Database: Environmental cycling of methylmercury
EVISA Link Database: Environmental cycling of inorganic mercury
 EVISA Link Database: Environmental pollution of methylmercury
EVISA Link Database: Environmental pollution of inorganic mercury
EVISA Link Database: Toxicity of mercury

 Related EVISA News

January 14, 2013: Mercury Levels in Humans and Fish Around the World Regularly Exceed Health Advisory Levels
December 24, 2012: Mercury in food – EFSA updates advice on risks for public health
December 9, 2012: Mercury in fish more dangerous than previously believed; Scientists urge for effective treaty ahead of UN talks
June 17, 2012: Factors Affecting Methylmercury Accumulation in the Food Chain

October 15, 2011: Mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region -- nearly forgotten, but not gone
August 16, 2010: Methylmercury: What have we learned from Minamata Bay?
June 28, 2010: New Study Examines Why Mercury is More Dangerous in Oceans
August 21, 2009: USGS Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish Nationwide
June 17, 2009: 'Surprisingly High Levels' of Methylmercury Contamination found in Groundwater
May 5, 2009: Ocean mercury on the rise
February 11, 2009: Mercury in Fish is a Global Health Concern
October 30, 2008: Precautionary approach to methylmercury needed
March 11, 2007: Methylmercury contamination of fish warrants worldwide public warning
October 9, 2006: Linking atmospheric mercury to methylmercury in fish
September 23, 2006: Report Finds Mercury Contamination Permeates Wildlife Systems
August 16, 2006: Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say
February 9, 2006: Study show high levels of mercury in women related to fish consumption
September 13, 2005: Regulating Mercury Emissions from Power Plants: Will It Protect Our Health?
August 29, 2005: Is methyl mercury limiting the delight of seafood ? - To answer this question is a challenge for elemental speciation analysis
April 3, 2005: Dissension on the best way to fight mercury pollution
March 20, 2005: New results on the distribution of mercury in the USA is fueling the discussion on the necessity of the reduction of its emission
January 12, 2005: Number of fish meals is a good predictor for the mercury found in hair of environmental journalists
April 27, 2004: FDA/EPA recommends pregnant women to restrict their fish consumption because of methylmercury content

last time modified: November 22, 2013


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