found this during my morning surf session:
Alarming find on mercury levels in canned tuna Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer, Thursday, June 19, 2003
One-third of canned albacore tuna tested by a nonprofit watchdog group contained levels of toxic mercury exceeding a federally recommended maximum dose for women of child-bearing age. The study, released Wednesday by the Mercury Policy Project in Montpelier, Vt., tested 60 cans of tuna selected randomly from Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles County and Montpelier. The brands included Starkist, Bumblebee and Chicken of the Sea. Of the 48 cans of albacore tuna tested, 16 exceeded levels of 0.5 parts per million of mercury. At that concentration, a woman of child-bearing age would be receiving a dose twice the maximum recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the study said. The report also found that canned albacore, labeled as “white tuna,” had an average level of mercury four times that of “light” tuna. Light tuna is made up of other types of smaller tuna, including skipjack, and is actually darker in color than albacore. Mercury is toxic to the human nervous system. In a pregnant woman, it crosses the placenta and can damage the fetus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 8 percent of U.S. women of child-bearing age have mercury exceeding the EPA’s safe dose. One of the new study’s reviewers, Dr. Alan H. Stern, a toxicologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the EPA’s safe dose limit, said the Mercury Policy Project’s calculations were accurate. Stern, an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said he had known from other scientists that albacore tuna typically tested higher. “I didn’t know that it was four times higher,” Stern said. At the U.S. Tuna Foundation, an industry group in San Diego, executive director Dave Burney said albacore tuna doesn’t pose a health threat. “There’s always been a difference between albacore and light meat because albacore’s a bigger fish. But the mercury level in albacore canned tuna is lower than shark, swordfish and fresh frozen tuna.” Americans eat 1.2 billion cans of tuna a year, about a quarter of it albacore, according to the industry. The major U.S. canned tuna companies, which Burney’s group represents, believe that albacore will be vindicated when the World Health Organization releases its mercury recommendations this summer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t warn against any tuna for sensitive populations. The FDA averages the mercury in white and light canned tuna when assessing whether it exceeds its safety guidelines. FDA warnings are in place for shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel, or consuming more than 12 ounces per week of any fish. The new study criticizes the FDA for timidity in the face of its own lab results dating back a decade. “The FDA and the states need to do more to warn about the dangers of eating canned tuna, specifically white albacore tuna. We would recommend that women and children not eat albacore,” said Jane Williams, a founder of the Mercury Policy Project and executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, a coalition of 85 grassroots health advocacy groups. FDA representatives didn’t return telephone calls Wednesday. In the past, officials have said the public doesn’t generally consume enough canned tuna to pose a health problem. Its 12-ounce weekly limit protects the public against mercury, they have said. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued several grocery chains, asking that they post warnings at fish counters for the FDA-listed fish as well as for fresh and frozen tuna. Based on recommendations from the state Department of Health Services, Lockyer wants the stores to include language saying that white tuna has more mercury than light tuna.