Sep292009
Got Mercury?
Written by Ava

The Turtle Island Restoration Network(TIRN) is hoping you won't be the next Jeremy Piven! The boisterous actor once had to pull out of a play he was headlining on account of mercury poisoning!

Fortunately for all, TIRN has just the resources to make sure this won't happen.  With their new non-profit organization, Got Mercury?, the network is educating the world on about the negatives of too much mercury in your seafood and public exposure to the toxin and providing a new tool to measure your Mercury intake and keep you having too much.

But just why is it so important to refrain from taking in too much mercury? Just ask Mr. Piven, who, among other symptoms,  experienced extreme fatigue. 

We had the chance to speak with Campaign Coordinator Karen Steele on just why an organization making the world aware of harmful habits of mercury is so important.

Looks like sea food is out and Got Mercury? is in.

What is GotMercury and what is its purpose?

GotMercury is a project of the non-profit organization Turtle Island Restoration Network. The Got Mercury campaign educates the public about the health risks of mercury in seafood, a potent neurotoxin, and takes action to reduce public exposure to mercury. GotMercury publishes a free mercury-in-fish calculator for sushi and seafood lovers to estimate their mercury exposure, available on-line and for free download to cell phones at GotMercury.Org. This takes the mystery out of which seafood is safe to eat with regard mercury exposure and allows consumers to make healthy seafood choices.

Why does the Turtle Island Restoration Network feel that education and awareness of mercury poisoning in seafood is so important they need to create an organization around it?

Methylmercury, the form of mercury found in seafood, is one of the most potent neurotoxins known to humans. The consumption of seafood is the primary source of mercury exposure to people in the United States. It can cause many serious health effects ranging from hair loss and nausea to central nervous system damage such as memory loss, speech impairment, numbness in the extremities and seizures. 

Certain populations including women of childbearing age, pregnant women and children are at the greatest risk of harm from methylmercury. Developmental delays in children can result from prenatal exposure to methylmercury through the mother’s fish consumption patterns. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six (around 630,0000) American children are born with potentially unsafe levels of mercury in their blood every year. As a result the EPA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued an advisory to these vulnerable populations warning them to avoid eating certain fish species high in mercury – swordfish and albacore tuna in particular -- and to limit their weekly consumption of fish – such as canned tuna.

This advisory is only available on the EPA and FDAs website and there are no requirements for stores, restaurants, schools or other seafood establishments to post these government warnings or inform the public. GotMercury.org sees a need for greater public education on how to make healthy seafood choices and avoid the risks of mercury exposure. Our goal is to fill this gap, which we do through our mercury in seafood calculator at gotmercury.org and other outreach and educational projects.

People have probably asked you in the past why a sea turtle organization would move in this direction.

Initially we made the connection that the fisheries – swordfish and tuna – that catch and kill large number of sea turtles, were also the species of fish highest in mercury. So not only are we causing the demise of sea turtles by eating these fish, we were also poisoning our bodies with them.

Once we began working on this issue we quickly realized it was a major public health concern, particularly for women and children, and that these vulnerable people were not getting the message about mercury in fish.  So we decided to develop GotMercury into its own public health campaign in 2002.

What is the ubiquitous nature of mercury in our environment, especially marine life, seafood? 


About 70% of mercury in the environment is the result of emissions from industrial activities. These industrial activities include coal-burning, electric and chlorine production plants. Mercury released into the air then falls and enters lakes, rivers and oceans where it converted by bacteria into its most potent form - methylmercury. Fish absorb the methylmercury and it begins to accumulate up through the food chain. Generally the larger and older the fish the more mercury it will contain. The concentration of mercury in large fish can be 10,000 to 100,000 times that in the water due to this bioaccumulation. 

Why create a Mercury calculator online tool and how does it work?

We created our mercury in seafood calculator for sushi and seafood lovers to estimate their mercury exposure. You can access the calculator for free online at www.gotmercury.org or at gotmercury.mobi for cell phone browsers. People can estimate their mercury exposure from seafood by entering their weight, fish choice and serving size into the calculator. It is based on current U. S. EPA and FDA guidelines, which still need to be strengthened.

What kind of projects, campaigns does Got Mercury run to spread an awareness of mercury contamination in seafood? 

GotMercury approaches the mercury-in-seafood campaign from many different angles. We educate the public through our mercury-in-seafood calculator at gotmercury.org, by offering mercury hair testing to find out mercury levels, and working with grocery stores and restaurants to display the federal advisory warning consumers about the risks in seafood. We also work to improve government policy on regulating and warning consumers about mercury in seafood. 

Can becoming an advocate for cutting out mercury from a diet support other marine areas like marine conservation, the saltwater and reef hobby, perhaps even spread of awareness of issues like climate change and ocean acidification? How so? 

Definitely! Mercury not only is one of the most toxic elements to humans but also to other animals and the environment. Many of the fish highest in mercury, such as swordfish and tuna, are being overfished. Bluefin tuna is a great example. Very high in mercury it is also on the brink of collapse due to overfishing. Mercury also continues up the food chain so you are seeing effects in many other wildlife that prey on fish such as birds, whales and dolphins. In addition the same industrial emissions that are polluting our air and oceans with mercury are also major contributors to climate change and ocean acidification. Mercury is pervasive throughout all corners of the planet and if we do manage to reduce the emissions the rate of decline of mercury in our oceans and environment will take from years to centuries, depending on the characteristics of a particular ecosystem.

What do you say to the mercury poisoning skeptics? 

It is time public health is placed ahead of seafood industry profits. 

Does Got Mercury have any upcoming projects? 

One big project GotMercury is gearing up to launch is a children’s hair testing program. Children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of mercury. There has been extensive research showing the detrimental effects of prenatal mercury exposure through fish consumption on a child’s development. However little if any research has focused on the effect of post-natal fish consumption on children’s development. Our goal is to provide some light on this issue and provide information to parents on how to make healthy seafood choices for their children. For more information on our upcoming projects visit our site: Got Mercury.   

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