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Tuna Tempest (mercury in fish), NY Times

Charles Miller rellim at tulane.edu
Wed Feb 21 10:48:16 EST 2001

Q&A: Tuna Tempest

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY, NY Times, 2-20-01

Q. If large fish, like tuna, can have traces of mercury, should I cut out
tuna fish sandwiches?

A. There is both concern and controversy over mercury in fish, said Dr.
Rodney L. Dietert, an immunotoxicologist who is head of the Breast Cancer
and Environmental Risk Factors Program at Cornell University, but an
occasional tuna fish sandwich for an adult who is not going to become
pregnant is not the main worry.

"It's a trade-off," he said. "There are known, very positive health benefits
from fish. The big concern is fetal exposure."

Mercury builds up in muscle cells of fish and in those who ingest it, and
can remain to damage the nervous system of a fetus even months after
ingestion, but what levels are dangerous has been debated. Last summer,
after an 18-month study, the National Academy of Sciences put the boundary
of concern at levels only one-fifth as high as other proposed standards: 0.1
micrograms per kilogram of body weight a day. Translated to consumption of
of fish, Dr. Dietert said, "to be on the safe side, a potentially pregnant
woman might want to eat no more than one tuna fish sandwich a week, but the
safe limit for other adults is probably much higher."

The riskiest fish are sharks and swordfish, Dr. Dietert said. Just behind
them are the large species of tuna. But, he said, "canned tuna uses much
smaller species, with a smaller range of mercury accumulation, and so is
safer than tuna steaks."


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