Friday, January 25, 2008

Spicy Tuna

Yesterday, a headline in the Times read, "Warnings Don't Deter Lovers Of Sushi."

For me, the only deterrent that ever veers me away from eating raw tuna is price and the fact that my kids don't like it -- occasionally cold, but that's never much a little warm Saki won't fix... I hadn't read the "warning" article from Wednesday, but felt alarmed enough to do so. It was reported in the food and wine section of the paper -- those sections are funny -- sometimes I wonder if they are trying to lure or bury with the placement of some stories...

"High Mercury Levels Found In Tuna Sushi." Apparently, reporters from the Times went all over Manhattan buying tuna sushi and testing it for mercury. Mercury is not regularly tested for by any government department.

Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market.

I've written about this before, but sometimes a topic warrants coming back to. It was the undeterred that intrigued me today...

Coal mining, coal burning, oil refining and oil pollution are all main causes of mercury poison. Last month an article from the Chicago Tribune looked at one plant's excretions into Lake Michigan.

The U.S. Steel mill in Gary and the BP refinery in nearby Whiting rank among the nation's worst factories on health threats to neighbors from water pollution, according to a Tribune analysis of new federal research.

Mercury, lead and other pollutants poured into the Lake Michigan basin by the two industrial giants account for the high health-risk scores tabulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The findings are based on the amount of pollution released by each facility, the toxicity of each chemical released and estimates of the number of people who eat fish caught in nearby waters.

Here's a funny fact I found -- the mercury that spills out of your old thermometer -- you can swallow it and it won't hurt you (if you are in good health to begin with). That form and amount of the metal is hard to absorb, and easy to get rid of. But fish eat fish after fish after fish, and the levels of mercury become concentrated inside of them, permeating their flesh.

People are exposed to methylmercury almost entirely by eating contaminated fish and wildlife that are at the top of aquatic foodchains. The National Research Council, in its 2000 report on the toxicological effects of methylmercury, pointed out that the population at highest risk is the offspring of women who consume large amounts of fish and seafood. The report went on to estimate that more than 60,000 children are born each year at risk for adverse neurodevelopmental effects due to in utero exposure to methylmercury. In its 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that mercury also may pose a risk to some adults and wildlife populations that consume large amounts of fish that is contaminated by mercury.

That's from the US Geological website. This from an article in Discover Magazine:

Infants born to mothers contaminated by mercury in Japan’s Minamata Bay in 1956 had profound neurological disabilities including deafness, blindness, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. In adults, mercury poisoning can cause numbness, stumbling, dementia, and death. “It’s no secret that mercury exposure is highly toxic,” says toxicologist Alan Stern, a contributor to a 2000 National Research Council report on mercury toxicity. But high-level exposures like those at Minamata cannot help scientists determine whether six silver fillings and a weekly tuna-salad sandwich will poison you or an unborn child. “The question is, what are the effects at low levels of exposure?” he says.

Data now suggest effects might occur at levels lower than anyone suspected. Some studies show that children who were exposed to tiny amounts of mercury in utero have slower reflexes, language deficits, and shortened attention spans. In adults, recent studies show a possible link between heart disease and mercury ingested from eating fish. Other groups claim mercury exposure is responsible for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and the escalating rate of autism.

Fillings??!! Really, it seems like a bunch of the disconnect stems from the fact that we don't really know yet what the effects are. But isn't it one of those things you look around and think -- autism, attention span, cancer, Alzheimer's -- we know these to be growing exponentially...

Why do we do things that are so clearly bad for us? What exactly do we need proved?

But also, where do we go -- what do we eat...

Who what where when why
do we spend our time and is safety really what we are looking for?

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