’s Operation Safe Seafood finds high levels of mercury in Florida tuna and swordfish adding to concerns about safety of Gulf seafood due to BP oil spill

By October 21, 2010Got Mercury?
High Levels of Mercury Found in Florida Tuna and Swordfish
Adds to Concerns About Safety of Gulf Seafood due to BP Oil Spill

Destin, FL–Forty one percent of fish samples taken from 11 Florida supermarkets in the Destin, Florida, area were found to contain dangerous levels of mercury, adding to the concerns about the safety of seafood being caught and eaten in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.   The mercury-in-fish testing was conducted as part of national effort called Operation Safe Seafood initiated by the public health advocacy group

The high levels of mercury found in tuna and swordfish from Destin-area seafood counters are especially problematic since the National Science and Technology Council has reported that fish consumption rates are higher for Gulf residents than other areas of the U.S. This could put Gulf residents at an increased risk of health problems associated with mercury exposure, particularly women and children who are most vulnerable.

Seventeen samples of tuna and swordfish from11 supermarkets were collected by a concerned mother and resident of Destin.  Of the 17 samples, 41 percent had mercury levels exceeding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) mercury action level of 1 part per million.  One tuna sample was nearly 300 percent over federal mercury limits.

To see the results and a detailed report please click here

“We have never seen such high mercury levels in tuna as were found in Florida,” said Buffy Martin Tarbox, Campaign Coordinator for, a public health advocacy group.  “The dangerously elevated amounts of mercury should make Gulf residents decide if swordfish and tuna is safe for their families to eat.”

All the samples contained mercury, a troubling finding since eating fish is the number one source of mercury exposure in the United States according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“As a mother, I care about the health of my family and won’t be buying tuna or swordfish again, even if government officials or the fishing industry tell me the mercury levels are safe,” said Velvet Browning-Smith, who volunteered her time to collect the samples.

Seafood from and being sold in the Gulf area has been under increasing scrutiny from scientists and fish eaters. A recent report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) calls into question the thoroughness and transparency of government testing of seafood for toxins related to the Gulf oil spill.  A letter signed by over two dozen health and environmental organizations in the Gulf was sent to the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) asking for more stringent contaminant testing protocols and data before the government re-opens Gulf fishing areas and determines seafood is safe for human consumption.

Similar mercury-in-fish investigations conducted by in communities across the U.S., including California, New York and Iowa, found that more than 35 percent of fish being sold in grocery stores exceeded the FDA’s mercury action level of 1 ppm.

Consistently high mercury levels have prompted to issue a warning to fish eaters asking them to sign a pledge to protect themselves against mercury and abstain from eating tuna, swordfish, shark, gulf tilefish and king mackerel, all high-mercury fish.  The pledge can be found in English, Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese and Cantonese on the website.

About  Because of the ubiquitous nature of mercury in the environment and because federal and state public health agencies are not doing enough to raise public awareness and protect the public from mercury, developed the free online mercury-in-fish calculators that have received millions of hits since 2002.

According to the calculator, a woman who weighs 140 pounds and eats a six-ounce portion of swordfish will be exposed to a mercury level that is 273 percent above government exposure guidelines.

Mercury contamination of seafood is a widespread public health problem, especially for women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing women and children.  Mercury ingestion can lead to memory loss, developmental and learning disorders, vision loss, heart disease and, in extreme cases, can result in death.

Currently there are no federal legal requirements to warn people about mercury in fish. has been seeking action from policy makers and the FDA to mandate mercury in fish warning signs at grocery stores and restaurants but government has been slow to act.