New Report Tells Mercury-in-Fish Poisoning Stories from 23 People

By December 16, 2008Got Mercury?

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 Today, the Mercury Policy Project released an expanded case study based on reports of doctors diagnosing patients with mercury toxicity. The report documents illness from 23 people who got sick from eating too much mercury-laden fish. Many of them live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read the report

The report was released after news that the Bush FDA was planning to rescind the mercury in fish advisories for women and children.

“Mercury levels in swordfish and tuna sold in the U. S. are sky-high,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for the GotMercury Project of Turtle Island Restoration Network in Forest Knolls, CA. “And now the government and tuna companies want to keep mothers and children completely in the dark about it.”

The FDA does not enforce the “action level” of 1 part per million mercury in fish, nor does it test or label such fish. The mercury standard is half that of Canada, Japan and the European Union and is based on flawed science and an industry lawsuit that dates back to the early 1970s.

Dr. Jane Hightower of San Francisco chronicled the seafood industry’s interference in public health policy in the book Diagnosis Mercury.

“We’ve known for years that mercury is toxic to the brain and other organs in varying amounts depending on the individual’s status. For FDA to suddenly change the equation to say that benefits outweigh risks is like once again declaring the earth is flat after discovering it was round,” concluded Jane M. Hightower, M.D., an internal medicine physician in San Francisco, CA, who published a landmark study that brought the issue of mercury in seafood to national attention. “Simply stated, FDA’s proposed recommendation to eat more fish is likely based on flawed science.”

In 2004, the FDA joined the EPA in releasing advice to restrict the species and amounts of fish eaten by pregnant women and children due to exposure risks to mercury. Last Friday, in a draft report submitted to the White House, the FDA proposed to not only rescind that advice, but recommend that sensitive populations eat more mercury-contaminated fish.

“Talk about getting hooked on fish stories,” said Michael Bender, Director of the Mercury Policy Project. “FDA has really gone overboard this time by casting out the science and reeling in the industry ‘line’ instead,” Bender said, referring to an industry report released prior to the FDA report that reached strikingly similar conclusions.

Exposure and toxic effects in adults and children are well-documented. Dr. Hightower’s new book, Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics and Poison, catalogues her patients’ mercury poisoning case histories.

“Patients in my private medical practice, as well as at other doctor’s offices around the country, have been diagnosed with mercury toxicity from eating too much fish. Ignoring the presence of a known neurotoxin in one’s diet is simply asking for trouble,” said Dr. Hightower.

“To say there’s nothing to worry about simply ignores reality,” said Stephanie Simmons. “My daughter’s reactions to additional mercury in her system from one meal of fish are testimony to that. Before being diagnosed and treated, her symptoms were dramatic, but now, subtler and longer-lasting after-effects still remain.”

Simmons’s story about her daughter is not an isolated case. Diagnosis of low-dose mercury poisoning from fish consumption is challenging unless physicians know what to look for and order the tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Today, the Mercury Policy Project released an expanded case study, all based on reports of doctors diagnosing patients with mercury toxicity.

More information:

Dr. Jane Hightower’s book, Diagnosis: Mercury: Money, Politics and Poison at:

Mercury Policy Project’s new report, “Over the Limit,” on patient histories related to mercury poisoning,

Access the draft FDA report, EPA’s response and related information at:

Calculator for personal use to estimate one’s mercury body-burden at:

Joint FDA/EPA fish consumption advice at:

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