Mercury Contamination Alert

The state of Florida is planning to expand its fish mercury warning, causing concern among some area fishermen.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports nearly all fish contain trace amounts of mercury, some more than others. This summer, the state of Florida is hoping to release a new health advisory about the mercury content in fish, and this news has some area fishermen concerned for his family.

Steve Rodgers, a fisherman, says, "If you're talking about the consumption of fish being a problem, it's a definite concern. We have children and we consume a lot of fish, fresh water and salt water."

For the first time, some commercially marketed fish will be included and the advisory will include strict limits on fish consumption. Area health professionals say while it's healthy to eat fish, any warning about mercury levels should be taken seriously.

Marjorie Kirsch, M.D. with the Leon County Health Department, says, "It's important to pay attention to these advisories and it's particularly important for pregnant women who are planning to become pregnant and young children to watch their mercury intake."

The FDA says fish absorb mercury from water as it passes over their gills and as they feed on aquatic organisms. The FDA also says that cooking does not reduce the mercury content of the fish. Since the mercury binds tightly to the fish's tissue.

The state first detected high mercury levels in northwest Florida in the early 80's. The warnings have since then expanded to included 12 freshwater fish from 50 bodies of water and a dozen saltwater fish in seven different zones.

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What is Mercury?

  • Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms.

  • The metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.

  • Metallic mercury is used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda and also used in thermometers, dental fillings, and batteries.

  • Mercury combines with other elements, such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen, to form inorganic mercury compounds or "salts," which are usually white powders or crystals.

  • Mercury salts are used in skin-lightening creams and as antiseptic creams and ointments.

How might you be exposed to mercury?

  • Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury (The most common form of mercury salts)

  • Breathing vapors in air from spills, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.

  • Release of mercury from dental work and medical treatments.

  • Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact during use in the workplace (dental, health services, chemical, and other industries that use mercury).

How does mercury affect your health?

  • The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.

  • Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.

  • Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

  • Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

What can you do if you think you have been exposed?

  • Tests are available to measure mercury levels in the body.

  • Blood or urine samples are used to test for exposure to metallic mercury and to inorganic forms of mercury.

  • Mercury in whole blood or in scalp hair is measured to determine exposure to methylmercury.

  • Your doctor can take samples and send them to a testing laboratory.

Source: (The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Web site)