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Mercury in Commercial Fish: Optimizing Individual Choices to Reduce Risk

Joanna Burger, Alan H. Stern and Michael Gochfeld
Environmental Health Perspectives
Vol. 113, No. 3 (Mar., 2005), pp. 266-271
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3436038
Page Count: 6
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Mercury in Commercial Fish: Optimizing Individual Choices to Reduce Risk
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Abstract

Most attention to the risks from fish consumption has focused on recreational anglers and on fish caught by individuals, but the majority of fish that people eat are purchased from commercial sources. We examined mercury levels in three types of fish (tuna, flounder, bluefish) commonly available in New Jersey stores, sampling different regions of the state, in communities with high and low per capita incomes, and in both supermarkets and specialty fish markets. We were interested in species-specific levels of mercury in New Jersey fish and whether these levels were similar to data generated nationally by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA; mainly from 1990 to 1992) on the same types of fish. Such information is critical for providing public health advice. We were also interested in whether mercury levels in three common species of fish differed by region of the state, economic neighborhood, or type of store. We found significant species differences, with tuna having the highest levels and flounder the lowest levels. There were no significant differences in mercury levels as a function of type of store or economic neighborhood. There was only one regional difference: flounder from fish markets along the Jersey shore had higher mercury levels than flounder bought in other markets. We also examined mercury levels in six other commonly available fish and two shellfish from central New Jersey markets. There were significant differences in availability and in mercury levels among fish and shellfish. Both shrimp and scallops had total mercury levels < 0.02 ppm (wet weight). Large shrimp had significantly lower levels of mercury than small shrimp. For tuna, sea bass, croaker, whiting, scallops, and shrimp, the levels of mercury were higher in New Jersey samples than those reported by the FDA. Consumers selecting fish for ease of availability (present in > 50% of markets) would select flounder, snapper, bluefish, and tuna (tuna had the highest mercury value), and those selecting only for price would select whiting, porgy, croaker, and bluefish (all with average mercury levels < 0.3 ppm wet weight). Flounder was the fish with the best relationship among availability, cost, and low mercury levels. We suggest that state agencies responsible for protecting the health of their citizens should obtain information on fish availability in markets and fish preferences of diverse groups of citizens and use this information to select fish for analysis of contaminant levels, providing data on the most commonly eaten fish that will help people make informed decisions about risks from fish consumption.

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