Contaminated Swordfish Found in California Grocery Stores

By September 28, 2004Got Mercury?

Mercury Levels in Swordfish Dangerously High Says New Data
San Francisco, CA – This week, new data was released by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project that shows skyrocketing mercury levels in swordfish purchased at grocery stores in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Orange, Sonoma and Marin counties. Stores in California and around the country continue to sell mercury-contaminated fish despite continued state and federal warnings that swordfish contains unsafe levels of mercury. Mercury levels in tested fish were measured in excess of 4 parts per million, more than 400% of the FDA’s action level. Environmental groups are calling on grocers and restaurants to stop selling swordfish to the public immediately.

“Stores are simply ignoring the data that shows swordfish to be highly contaminated with mercury by continuing to sell it, sometimes at significantly discounted prices”, says Andy Peri, an analyst for Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “It’s deeply disturbing that California grocers are simply ignoring the health science and continuing to poison their customers”

In May and June of this year, samples collected by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project showed mercury in swordfish in California stores to be excessively high with 68% of samples exceeding the FDA action level value of 1 ppm. The average concentration of mercury in samples collected was 1.38 parts per million, with the highest sample having a concentrations of 4.15 parts per million of mercury; more than 4 times the FDA action level.

The FDA action level is the concentration at which the FDA can take legal action to remove products from the market. “There are regulations on the books that enable the FDA to take action, but they are doing nothing”, says Peri. “Perhaps it should be called the FDA ‘inaction level.’”

In late 2002, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) tested swordfish from several California supermarkets and found similarly high levels of mercury in swordfish. “Mercury levels continue to be high enough in swordfish to warrant its removal from store shelves. Since Bush Administration’s FDA does not have the political will to do so, stores need to take the lead,” says Peri.

In the absence of adequate signs or public education about this issue, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project recently launched a mercury calculator for consumers, which allows consumers to gauge their mercury exposure from eating seafood. The website is located at It gives seafood consumers the power to determine if their seafood diet is exposing them to harmful levels of mercury.

Both the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and the State of California have made attempts to protect Californians from exposure to mercury in fish by suing Safeway, Albertson’s, the Kroger Company and other California grocers under Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires businesses that sell products know to the state of California to cause cancer or reproductive harm to notify customers of their dangers. Despite Proposition 65 and the pending lawsuits, which require grocers to post health-warning signs where mercury contaminated fish is sold, California stores continue to neglect posting signs adequately in most of their stores. “Our warning sign survey team has found that there are no signs or inadequate signs in 70% of California stores”, says Peri.

Methylmercury—the organic form of mercury found in many species of fish—is a potent neurotoxin that can cause nervous system and brain damage in developing fetuses, infants, and young children. According to a February analysis by the EPA of Centers for Disease Control data, one in 6 women of childbearing age in the U.S. has unsafe mercury levels, translating to over 630,000 babies born at risk for mercury exposure in the U.S. each year.

Mercury contamination of seafood is a persistent public health concern. The Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant women to, “protect your unborn child by not eating these large fish that can contain high levels of methylmercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish” Furthermore, the Attorney’s General mercury waning sign states that, “pregnant and nursing women, women who may become pregnant and young children should not eat the following fish: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish. They should also limit their consumption of other fish, including fresh or frozen tuna” (bold text is in the original sign from the Attorney’s General office). The Attorney General’s website is at:

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