A new report by the Minnesota Department of Health underscores the importance of making wise choices at the dinner table.
In a recent study of mercury contamination in newborns in the Lake Superior region, fewer Wisconsin newborns are exposed to mercury pollution than Minnesota newborns. A whopping 10 percent of newborns in Minnesota have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood — one in 10 babies are at risk of lower IQs and reduced memory loss. Wisconsin’s Lake Superior region has a much lower exposure, with 3 percent of newborns showing mercury at dangerous levels.
But even that is too many, and this study serves as a good reminder to everyone, especially for women of childbearing age, to limit consumption of fish that are likely to contain mercury.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that is dangerous for the developing brains of children, babies and fetuses, and it only takes small amounts of this chemical to cause big harm. It is estimated that 5,000 and 9,000 children born in Wisconsin each year are at risk of having lower IQs and reduced memory as a result mercury exposure. Humans are exposed to mercury a number of ways; it’s found in many everyday objects, such as electronic waste and old thermostats, and is byproduct of burning coal for electricity. When mercury gets into water it changes to methylmercury, which has unique properties that allow it to build up in the bodies of fish. When larger fish eat smaller fish, mercury can build up to high levels in the tissues of the bigger fish. Because mercury binds to meat of the fish, it cannot be removed by cooking or cleaning and gets into humans when they eat the fish.
This year, the EPA introduced the first-ever national rules that limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution. Wisconsin has been in leader in mercury reduction with a mercury pollution law on the books since 2008. Go Badgers!
Here are some helpful guidelines; also check out the state of Wisconsin’s “Choose Wisely” guide for fish consumption:
- Choose smaller fish.
- For local fishing, smaller game fish, panfish, stream trout and salmon are good choices. Avoid large walleyes or northerns from northern lakes.
- From the ocean, avoid yellowfin tuna, shark, mackerel or orange roughy.
Contributed by Katy Walter, Organizer & Clean Energy Specialist