Is High Level of Mercury in Shellfish Harmful to the General Population People? Term Paper

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Mercury in Seafood

Are high Mercury Levels in Shellfish and Seafood Harmful to the Population of People?

Since the 1800s people have been aware that fish contain high levels of mercury (Ferguson, 2005). The harmful effects of high levels of mercury in the human body have been known for many years as well. Recently, there has been a rash of media hype about the dangers of mercury to the developing fetus and to small children. This has led to suggestions that the public avoid consumption of certain shellfish and seafood above certain levels. However, this denies these groups of the known health benefits of fish, including the important Omega-3 fatty acids and their heart protective properties.

Popular opinion supports the idea that high levels of mercury automatically translate into high mercury levels in humans. However, empirical evidence is in favor of limitations on consumption of fish merely as a precaution. There have been no cases of mercury poisoning in humans from the consumption of fish. Many of the warnings and cautions are based on "hypothetical" scenarios. This research demonstrates that fears over fish consumption are over reactive, but still supports the advisories regarding fish consumption.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Significance of the Problem

Background

Chapter 2: Literature Review

What is mercury and why is it harmful? 6

What Levels of methylmercury are safe? 7

Mercury in the Body

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Mercury in the Grocery and at Restaurants 8

Summary

Chapter 3: Conclusions and Recommendations

References

Chapter 1: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Term Paper on Is High Level of Mercury in Shellfish Harmful to the General Population People? Assignment

Shellfish and seafood are an important part of the American diet. Fish are an important source of Omega-2 fatty acids, believed to be an essential element for a healthy diet. Omega-3 is essential to the brain and eye development of a baby (Ohio EPA, 2007). It is estimated that the average woman aged 15-44 consumes a mean daily average of 4.28 grams of fish per day (EPA., 2002). Those under the federal poverty level consumer approximately 7.03 grams per day (EPA, 2002). Fish and seafood, including shellfish, are an important element of the U.S. diet.

The seafood and fish industry in the United States nets approximately 7,513,878 USD per year (NOAA, 2004). This makes it a major contributor to the economy. However, this segment of the economy and public health may be at risk due to contaminants in the fish. Current government advisories suggest limiting the amount of certain fish consumed by people in the United States. The reason for these advisories stems from the discovery of high levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals in ready-to eat fish. This research will address the issue of mercury in shellfish and other seafood in terms of the risk that it poses to the average U.S. citizen.

Significance of the Problem

Exposure to mercury vapor has been associated with a variety of health problems. The most notable of these is damage to the nervous system. This problem is of special concern during pregnancy and for children (NJSDH, 2007). Estimates of risk to the general public range from significant to slight. There are many factors to consider in estimating the risk of mercury exposure from eating shellfish and seafood in the general population in the United States. These differences in opinion make this an important public health issue. Understanding the real risk to the public is an important health issue, especially considering the health benefits of fish to a healthy diet.

Background balanced diet rich in shellfish and seafood is an important part of a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help keep the heart healthy and provide the nutrients necessary for healthy brain development in children (DHHS/EPA, 2004). However, now this advisory to eat fish as an important part of the diet comes with a word of caution attached. The health benefits of seafood may be overshadowed by the risks associated with high levels of toxic chemicals, metals, and other compounds in the tissues of the fish. The question is whether the health benefits outweigh the risks associated with consumption of fish.

Almost all seafood in the U.S. contain traces of mercury in their systems. Mercury contamination has received the greatest attention from scientists, legislators, public health officials and the mass media. This is because of the widespread nature of lead contamination, compared to other toxins found in fish (DHHS/EPA, 2004). Many other contaminants may be site or species related. However, the problem of mercury in fish is the most widespread in terms of geography and species involved (DHHS/EPA, 2004). This makes mercury of particular concern when it comes to contamination issues.

The risks to women of childbearing age and to children are considered to be the most significant. Mercury levels in children will be higher than those in an adult because the amount to mercury contamination is proportional to a person's weight (DHHS/EPA, 2004). For example a 145 lb person who eats a 6 oz. albacore steak will have a lower blood concentration of mercury than a 45 lb child eating the same albacore steak. Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that following three basic rules can help to reduce their exposure to mercury to a level where they can enjoy the benefits of eating fish in the diet.

1. Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week." (DHHS/EPA, 2004).

This advisory seems simple enough to follow. However, there are many who question the consumption of any amount of mercury containing fish. This places a major damper on what constitutes a healthy diet in the U.S. There are those that downplay the risks, as well as those who feel that the risks are significant. The following research will examine both sides of the mercury debate.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

There is much information available regarding the mercury in seafood debate. The content of the information varies according to source. Many sources are decidedly slanted towards one opinion or another. The problem lies in sifting through the information to arrive at a conclusion about the real risk of eating seafood. The following will review the most reliable literature available in order to determine the real threat of mercury in the U.S. diet to the average U.S. citizen.

What is Mercury and why is it harmful?

Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the environment. It is released into the air by industrial pollution. It can also be released directly into waterways in an effluent. Mercury can fall from the air and become deposited in streams and in the ocean. When mercury comes into contact with water it transforms into methylmercury. This form of mercury can be harmful to children and unborn children.

Fish absorb methylmercury as they feed in contaminated waters. The amount of mercury builds up in fish faster than they can process it from their body. Some types of fish and shellfish are particularly prone to mercury buildup. Top predators tend to have higher levels of mercury than those on the lower level of the food chain. This is because they gain mercury from the fish that they eat, in addition to what is normally absorbed through the environment. Mercury levels in fish vary according to the waterway, proximity to industrial wastes, and their diet.

Nearly all fish and shellfish contain some form of methylmercury. However, the larger the fish, the higher the level seems to be. This is because the fish has lived longer and have had more time to accumulate it in their system. Large fish such as shark, king mackerel, and tilefish pose the greatest threat. Currently there is a warning against eating these types of fish at all (EPA, 2002).

Mercury accumulates in the human blood stream, just like it does in the bloodstream of the fish. This is the key reason for warnings against certain levels of consumption over time. Women who are planning on getting pregnant may have high mercury levels that are sufficient to harm the unborn child, even if they stop consuming fish when they become pregnant. They could have a build-up in mercury levels from before they were pregnant. The body eliminates mercury slowly. It can take over… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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