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San Diego Sushi Tuna Found High in Mercury

11/06/03

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Toxic Tuna Trend Means Women and Children Must Avoid Tuna

A recent undercover investigation of San Diego's top sushi restaurants is adding to the bad news about high levels of mercury in tuna. The investigation found that 1 in 5, or 20 percent, of the tuna tested had dangerous levels exceeding that of king mackerel, which the FDA warns women and children to never eat. The public health group GotMercury.Org in partnership with San Diego KGTV television news secretly tested 20 pieces of tuna sushi from 10 of San Diego's top sushi restaurants in April.

The San Diego investigation follows on the heels of GotMercury.Org's investigation of Los Angeles sushi in March 2006, which created international concern after a Los Angeles Times article.

"We are seeing a toxic trend here in California," said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.org. "Families in San Diego and across the nation need to know the risks of eating tuna sushi and avoid it for the sake of their children. With so many healthier seafood choices available, why take the risk?"

The FDA data reports that fresh and frozen tuna averaged 0.383 ppm, significantly lower than GotMercury.Org's results showed an average of 0.584 from 32 samples in San Diego and Los Angeles - over 150 percent of the mercury levels reported by the FDA. Overall, 25 percent of tuna tested in the two cities exceeded the federal advisory level for women and children. About 16 percent of the tuna tested - 1 in 6 tuna sushi - should not have been eaten by any consumer - man, woman, or child.

"In our combined studies, 1 out of 4 tuna sushi tested exceeded what is considered safe by the federal government," said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.Org. "This new round of testing affirms the need for women of childbearing age and children to avoid tuna served as sushi, sashimi, or ahi."

The FDA and EPA already warn women and children not to eat king mackerel (0.730 ppm), swordfish (0.970 ppm), shark (0.988 ppm), and tilefish (1.45 ppm). However, the FDA advisory on tuna is confusing and weak regarding tuna and differs from the calculations used by the EPA.

"Mercury contamination is a serious issue for pregnant women, children, and women who are even considering getting pregnant," said Erin Thompson of Women's Voices for the Earth. "Women buy tuna for themselves and their children. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that women be informed about what types of tuna to avoid, and it the responsibility of the FDA to provide this information."

Consumers are at risk by eating tuna sushi or sashimi and should be aware of the risks, especially women who are or intend to become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children. Children developing in the womb and young children are particularly vulnerable to methylmercury, the toxic organic form found in fish, because it can harm neurological development - resulting lower IQ, nervous system damage, cardiovascular ailments, and motor skill problems.

"Sushi can be part of a healthy diet, but consumers need to know that too much tuna can be toxic," said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.Org. "Given that samples vary widely in mercury levels, there is no way to know how much methylmercury you are ingesting when you eat tuna sushi, sashimi, or ahi."

GotMercury.Org is a free, online mercury-in-seafood calculator that was recently revised to include the FDA's 2006 mercury in fish and shellfish data. GotMercury.Org educates consumers on healthier seafood choices by using the EPA and FDA data to calculate how much seafood consumption is safe in a given week.

Available Resources:

1. San Diego sushi report: www.GotMercury.Org/sandiegosushi
2. Consumers can calculate their mercury exposure from seafood: www.GotMercury.Org
3. Revised 2006 FDA mercury in fish and shellfish data: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html
4. B-roll of mercury in seafood images.
3. Electronic Press Kit: www.gotmercury.org/press or www.gotmercury.org/info
4. Interviews with mercury poisoned women and children available.
5. FDA and EPA Consumer Advisory on Methylmercury in Fish: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html

Eli Saddler, JD, MPH, MA, Public Health Analyst
GotMercury.Org/TIRN, PO Box 400, Forest Knolls, CA 94933
Phone: 415-488-0370 ext. 104; Email: eli@gotmercury.org

GotMercury.org is a project of the Mercury Education and Response Campaign (MERC) of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN). TIRN is a California-based public health advocacy and marine conservation nonprofit that educates the public about mercury in seafood, protects California Coho salmon populations, and works to protect sea turtles and other marine species in the United States and in countries worldwide. For more information about TIRN, please visit: www.seaturtles.org



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