Mercury is a toxic metal that can harm the brain development of young children and unborn babies. Although mercury can occur naturally in the environment, much of the toxic mercury in the United States comes from a single source—coal-burning electric power plants. These plants emit mercury into the air as they burn coal, and the mercury is then brought to earth in rain, ending up in rivers, lakes and streams and in many kinds of fish. The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and 43 state governments have issued advisories warning people, especially women and children, to avoid or limit eating fish due to widespread mercury contamination.
Who Is Affected?
Pregnant women and children who eat fish contaminated with toxic mercury are at risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned pregnant women, and women who might become pregnant, not to eat certain types of fish, including shark and swordfish, not to eat more than 12 ounces per week of other fish, including such commonly eaten fish as canned tuna, and to take care in eating fish caught by family and friends in freshwater lakes, rivers and streams. The FDA also cautioned nursing mothers and young children from eating these types of fish.
What You Can Do
Find out if lakes, rivers and streams in your community are contaminated with mercury and warn friends and family members against eating fish caught in those streams. Information on bodies of water contaminated with mercury is available from the Environmental Protection Agency and from state environmental agencies.
Limit how much fish you and your children eat. Guidelines for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers are available from the Food and Drug Administration.
Contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to support legislation that would reduce mercury emissions from power plants. Write to President Bush and ask that he support regulations to reduce mercury from power plants.
Find out where your elected officials stand on cleaning up mercury from power plants. Attend town meetings and ask them tough questions or write letters and ask for their position on the issue. You can also look for information from national and state groups that track the environmental voting records of elected officials such as the League of Conservation Voters or your state conservation voter league.
Register to vote and vote for candidates who will reduce mercury emissions from power plants and make fish safe to eat for everyone.
Find out more about the issue of mercury contamination in fish and the link to power plant emissions at the U.S. PIRG website.
Find out more about how mercury affects children’s brain development from Physicians for Social Responsibility.