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Great Lakes Article:

Mercury in Fish
State needs tougher hand as federal rules falter
Detroit Free Press
12/17/03


The federal government is pondering once more how to advise Americans on high mercury levels in some fish, including tuna. But no matter where the Food and Drug Administration ends up, it's time for Michigan to take its own precautionary steps.

Mercury-laden fish threaten children, especially those born to moms with high exposure levels. Methylmercury, the toxic form that mercury takes in the food chain, can cause neurological problems such as learning difficulties. State advisories make it plain that fish in inland lakes have enough mercury that they should rarely if ever be eaten by children and women of child-bearing age. The same is true for some big ocean fish, especially swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. Recent tests suggest that large tuna, which get processed into tuna steaks and canned white albacore tuna, also belong on the "do not eat" list for children and young women.

But it's not easy to keep track of which fish to avoid, which can be eaten anytime, and which are OK in moderation (roughly defined as two 6-ounce servings a week). It's even harder around the Great Lakes, with the bounty of freshwater species that people catch and cook in addition to what they buy.

The obvious answer is information, particularly signs at grocery stores and fishing sites, along with discreet footnotes on restaurant menus. Otherwise some people, in ignorance, will eat too much fish while others shun every kind. Since fish can be a heart-healthy source of protein, that's a big mistake, too.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as expected, announced a weak set of rules Monday in its first attempt to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired plants. That makes good consumer education even more crucial. It's a job the state can and should take on.

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