Putting Our People At Risk

Recent research shows that those who supply toxic sources of energy contribute enormously to mercury contamination of marine life and along with those entrusted to protect the public interests have dropped the ball that’s created a health risk for sea food lovers like me.


It’s not often that I come across an issue that touches on several critical areas all at the same time.  And I owe it all to my love for tuna, tilapia, shrimp, catfish, oysters, cod,  salmon and just about any other marine species that occupy our global waters.  I love seafood but for most of my married life I have indulged myself very little because my wife was sure she was allergic to most fish products.  So I bit the bullet and made the sacrifice for domestic tranquility purposes.  Only when we went out to eat where fish was on the menu would I feast on those aquatic delights.

Well, fate and time have been good to me as my wife has gingerly discovered that she doesn’t have a reaction to fish like she thought she did and has been willing to allow it in our diet more frequently.  In fact we went out to our favorite restaurant the other day to celebrate her birthday and she ordered the parmesan crusted tilapia with lemon cream sauce.  I sampled it and found it delicious as I savored it ever so meticulously.  Tilapia is something we consume routinely now as Kroger’s sells it at a discounted price and it comes pre-crusted in several flavors, tortilla-crusted being my favorite.

It now appears however that my earlier self-imposed restraints might have had some health serving benefits to it  A few days following this I have come across several sources of information that have me on the verge of giving up this cherished pleasure.  At first the news was good as I read an article in the current issue of the AARP magazine entitled “The New American Diet”.  

Seventeen years ago, AARP teamed up with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of dietary and lifestyle choices on the incidence of cancer and other diseases among half a million people ages 50 or older.

Over the past few years the study has provided a wealth of information about what we should and should not eat to live a long, healthy life. In short, we know how certain foods affect our bodies, so we can adjust our diet accordingly to stay healthy and lose weight.      SOURCE


To my delight one of the recommendations in this study encouraged readers to Get fishy!   Pointing out the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in seafood, especially its importance for a healthy brain, I felt a confirmation about my choice to eat more fish even though I was aware of previous problems with high mercury levels in them.  Yet this article from the health experts at the NIH and AARP said nothing about this ongoing problem and recommended two-to-three servings of fish each week, making me feel that perhaps the threat of mercury-laden fish was waning.

Then within the next day or two I get this from Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment:

A new study has found that 84% of all fish have unhealthy levels of mercury!.  … From a 2012 UN assessment of the mercury threat we find that human-caused “emissions and releases have doubled the amount of mercury in the top 100 meters [yards] of the world’s oceans in the last 100 years. Concentrations in deeper waters have increased by only 10-25%, because of the slow transfer of mercury from surface waters into the deep oceans.”    SOURCE 

The likelihood that most of the fish I have been eating over the last few years has dangerous levels of mercury in it is 8 out of 10 times with the potential to get higher as those deep water marine life become more tainted with mercury that comes from MAN MADE SOURCES.  Something I will discuss momentarily in greater detail

The last piece of information that made me sit up quickly was found in this report by CBS news that talked about the effects mercury was having on the CEO of the movie company IMAX, Richard Gelfond.

Richard Gelfond always considered himself athletic, until one day, something went very wrong.  “I went running, and it felt like I was going to fall over,” said Gelfond, adding it had something to do with his balance.

Gelfond, … consulted doctors on both coasts. They had no answers. He was worried.  “It got to the point where I really couldn’t cross the street. I had to hold my wife’s hand,” Gelfond said.

Many tests later, a neurologist asked Gelfond if he ate a lot of fish. He did, twice a day. The diagnosis was mercury poisoning.  “I thought I was doing something really good for my body, and it turned out I was doing something really bad for my body,” Gelfond said.

It was Gelfond’s comment about feelinglike I was going to fall over” that put a knot in my stomach.  Only days earlier I experienced some recurring minor dizziness that had me clutching for walls or furniture to balance myself as I stood up from a sitting position.  My mind raced around this thought.  “Could these on again, off again dizzy spells be an early indicator of mercury poisoning from fish consumption on my part?


After getting a little worried, I began to get mad.  Why hadn’t the AARP article with all of its healthy advice alluded to the problems we’ve had with mercury in fish.  It appears that their article went to press before this study on high levels of mercury in fish from the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) sent out a press release on January 9th of this year, so I can’t accuse them of covering up this pertinent information.   None-the-less, saying nothing about mercury in seafood seems like a terrible lapse by the medical professionals encouraging older people to eat more fish – the same age population that are more susceptible to other neurological disorders like Alzheimers.

But I guess the thrust if any anger needs to go to two entities that share some degree of responsibilities for these findings.  First and foremost is the coal industry and their partners in crime who have promoted and fought to sustain coal-fired power plants.

The message to take away is not never to eat fish. It is that there is too much mercury in our environment. Half of all mercury emissions in the United States come from coal-fired power plants, and a quarter of mercury released into the environment globally is from coal. Some 1200 new coal plants (600 in the U.S.) are now planned around the world, and this must not be allowed.   SOURCE  

The other culprits in this crime are the FDA and EPA and the political leaders who have hampered these agencies in several ways by reducing its budget to better inspect our food sources and keep the air we breathe relatively clean.  The hue and cry from the GOP condemning EPA efforts to curb pollution from coal-fired power plants is but a recent example of where the public welfare that our legislators have been charged with have not been properly addressed.  The association some of these people have with the fossil fuel industry, especially big coal in this case, is indicative of their reluctance to allow the EPA to keep harmful emissions in check.

Such efforts at hamstringing federal agencies can also be seen with the Food and Drug Administration in how budget cuts and down-playing the seriousness of mercury in our food supply have inhibited our government from properly informing the public.   Here’s an example from the FDA’s website back in 2004 under the Bush administration that assured Americans that though there was some threat from mercury in fish to specific segments of the population, like pregnant mothers, and only with certain fish, the public should not be over-concerned and was encouraged to eat “12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury … like shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.”

Linda Greer with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tells us in that CBS report that “[m]any of the tuna fish we eat, for example, swim in the South China Sea, and that’s mercury pollution that comes into cans and into our pantries every day.”  So much for the recommendations from the FDA.

In another FDA report we discover that if processors of seafood components and extracts discover that “contaminants in the raw material are present at unacceptable levels, [they] may reject the product or choose to implement refining steps that reduce the contaminants to acceptable levels in the finished product”.   Clearly this current study from the BRI revealing that 84% of all fish having unhealthy levels of mercury in them indicates that this procedure has not been done adequately and the poor oversight that stems from industry-friendly FDA administrators and/or under-staffed FDA inspectors bear some responsibility for putting the public at risk.

It’s this simple message about how big corporations and their cronies in government negatively impact our lives that often get lost on the people who tend to side with the Mitt Romney view that “corporations are people too”,  implying that they share all of our concerns.  I don’t want to give up my love for seafood but because the self-interests of many within the seafood industry and the politicians that rely on the corporate funding to get re-elected, I may have to do just that.

I wouldn’t wish ill-health on any one but I guess it will take this happening to most of those who harbor misguided sentiments about capitalism and the free markets, putting them too high on a pedestal where anyone who challenges their motives or actions are persecuted as anti-American.  The belief that capitalism and all that it entails is heads and shoulders above our representative form of government is a false notion fostered by many within the wealthiest 1% in this nation who own 40% of its wealth.  Some apparently are not satisfied with only 40%.

Tea Party Anger Cartoon

It’s time for a light to go on in that fringe element of conservative politics like the Tea Party devotees to redirect some of their energy away from big gubbermint and aim it instead at those who are really the power brokers in this country.  Them being the very wealthy special interests that work hard every day to enhance their bank accounts by cutting corners too often to avoid taking a hit to their bottom line.

Through the use of the NRDC’s “mercury calculator” you can get an estimate of your mercury intake to see if it exceeds safe levels.  Over the last week I have had one large serving of tilapia, one large serving of cod and 2 medium servings of tuna fish.  According to NRDC’s calculator my estimated mercury intake is above the “Safety Zone”    This amount of sea food for me averaged 0.12 micrograms per kilogram per day, which is above the maximum mercury intake that the Environmental Protection Agency considers to be safe — 0.1 micrograms per kilograms per day.

I’m all for businesses providing the services we want and need while making a decent profit from their efforts.  But if I can’t go to Catfish King, Pappadeaux’s, Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack or the Rockfish Seafood Grill without thinking I’m likely poisoning myself then how can I be expected to promote at least this segment of the free enterprise system?

I’m not the industry’s sacrificial lamb and neither are you, your children or your grandchildren.  Neither are the families who make the sacrifices necessary to catch those aquatic delicacies many of us love so much.  But by continuing to pollute our rivers and oceans with high levels of mercury from coal-fired power plants and other dirty sources, we threaten not only their livelihood but the ocean life itself we all depend on to sustain us, not to mention the impact these filthy sources of energy have on climate change which threatens all future generations.

ten corporate commandments

11 responses to “Putting Our People At Risk

  1. We must stop judging what we buy and what we eat primarily by what it costs. Because we tend to buy the cheapest whatever, the corporate scum provide us with the least expensive products–not the safest, not the most humane, just the cheapest. And we have seen what they will do to make things cheaply.

    • There are some good people in the FDA and the fishing industry that have the public’s welfare at the top of their list. It’s too bad that some of their associates apparently don’t feel the same.

  2. It’s been what, 51 years since Rachel Carlson’s “Silent Spring” was first published… and it seems sometimes like we haven’t learnt a damn thing.

  3. Bummer. Even what’s good for us is bad for us. I sure hope Eastern sierra hatchery raised trout is mercury free. That’s some gooood fish eatin’ them trouts.

  4. WE’ve been wary of seafood and eat it fairly sparingly. The pollution in oceans rivers and so forth is just so great now. You touch on the real culprit in my mind–the degree to which the agencies set up to protect us, have been co-opted by the industries they were to regulate. They now protect them most of the time to our detriment. It’s sad and keeps getting worse. All these government agency heads head off to corporate jobs following their “service”. Its wrong.

  5. Hate to say it but i love sushi. Don’t eat it as much as I would like but I still eat it. Maybe one day the gov’t agencies that be will take the ocean threats seriously. I highly doubt it though.

    • Just let them know when you’re pissed off Donna. You have access to many ears with your communication links. You could be a good spokesperson for such an important public concern. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled you know. 🙂

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