Tuna Sushi Loaded with Mercury Served at Top LA Restaurants

By March 6, 2006Got Mercury?

Pregnant Women, Future Mothers, and Children Should Avoid Tuna Sushi

Los Angeles, CA – Undercover investigation of LA’s top sushi restaurants reveals tuna high in mercury. GotMercury.Org visited six of Los Angeles’s top sushi restaurants and found tuna sushi levels had average mercury levels of 0.721 ppm. These levels are close to the levels of king mackerel, which the FDA instructs women and children to never eat.

Zagat Survey, a popular restaurant guide, lists sushi and Japanese food as the most popular in most US cities. At sushi restaurants, tuna is the single most popular item to order, but carries the biggest risk of mercury exposure.

The FDA data shows that fresh and frozen tuna averaged 0.383 ppm, significantly lower than GotMercury.Org’s testing results. On average, the tuna tested was double the mercury levels reported by the FDA. Sushi grade tuna may be higher in mercury because it often comes from the biggest, fattest tuna. Fish that grow large and are long-lived bioaccumulate the most mercury. Also, since the FDA blends multiple tissue samples for testing, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, average mercury levels are reported as lower than what individually tested samples of tuna show.

“Out study confirms that the FDA should immediately revise its March 2004 mercury in seafood advisory to clarify that women and children should stop eating almost all tuna,” said Eli Saddler, public health analyst for GotMercury.Org. 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).

“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.”

“It’s like playing Russian roulette with your health whenever you purchase sushi with tuna. Sushi consumers outside of Los Angeles should not assume their tuna is lower in mercury. In fact, since tuna is imported from all over the world, the tuna in Kansas could be just as high on average or higher, ” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network and its GotMercury.org program.

Consumers are at risk by eating tuna sushi or sashimi and should be aware of the risks of consuming, especially women who are or intend to become pregnant and children. Babies 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, 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 or sashimi and, whether you live in LA or elsewhere, you are at risk.”

“The smart choice for sushi lovers is to avoid tuna and to eat pick other sushi favorites like shrimp or salmon that have little or no mercury,” added Saddler.

“The public needs to know that mercury is toxic. You don’t have to ingest mercury in tuna when healthier fish for sushi are on the menu,” stated Steiner.

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. For example, a 130-pound woman who ate just one two-ounce tuna sushi this week would exceed her EPA safe level of mercury by about %. A child of 40 pounds, eating a two-ounce tuna roll this week, would exceed the EPA safe level of mercury by about %. Such a level in the child would far exceed the uncertainty factor (sometimes referred to as “safety factor”) used in calculating the FDA’s level.


Additional Available Resources:

1. Revised FDA mercury in fish data: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-mehg.html
2. Consumers can calculate their mercury exposure from seafood: GotMercury.Org
3. B-roll of mercury in seafood images.
4. Electronic Press Kit: www.gotmercury.org/press or www.gotmercury.org/info
5. Interviews with mercury poisoned women and children available.
6. 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 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