Kids, Pregnant Women Should Limit Fish Intake From Certain Waters

Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Fish in Florida. Close

Fish in Florida.

Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Fish in Florida.

Bloomberg BNA — Pregnant and breast-feeding women, as well as young children, should be careful about eating fish caught in local streams, lakes and rivers that have not been monitored for mercury contamination, under draft recommendations issued June 10 by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

The agencies reiterated their draft advice for women who are pregnant or might be pregnant and women who are breast feeding their children that they eat no more than 6 ounces of fish caught from waters that aren't monitored for mercury levels. For young children, the agencies recommended a dietary intake of 1 ounce to 3 ounces.

The agencies said the draft guidelines, which haven't been revised since 2004, are based on the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans.

Follow Local Advisories, Recommended Limits

Elizabeth Southerland, director of the Office of Science and Technology within the EPA Office of Water, said in a teleconference with news reporters to follow fish advisories for local lakes, streams and rivers. Where no fish advisory is available, she said to limit fish consumption to the recommended limits.

The recommendation to limit fish intake in unmonitored waters is part of the draft recommendations, “What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know.” The agencies said they issued the same advice as part of dietary recommendations for fish in 2004.

For waters where monitoring is available for mercury levels in fish, the agencies recommended that such groups of women eat at least 8 ounces to 12 ounces a week of a “variety” of fish containing low mercury levels to support fetal growth. Recommended choices include shrimp, tilapia, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, catfish and cod.

Minimum Level Recommended

For the first time, the agencies are recommending a minimum level of fish consumption, because a 2005 FDA survey of 1,200 pregnant women found average fish consumption of about 1.8 ounces a week.

“This is the first time we are specifying a minimum amount,” explained Dr. Stephen Ostroff, FDA chief acting scientist, who also was present during the teleconference.

Ostroff said the agencies in 2004 recommended that up to 12 ounces of fish be consumed. Since then, he said, science has evolved considerably, showing the significant amount of health benefits that can be reaped through consuming at least 8 ounces of fish a week.

Most Important Advice: Variety

Ostroff also emphasized the most important advice that the agencies are giving is “variety” in the types of fish consumed.

Mercury is present as methylmercury in traces in all fish and shellfish. According to the EPA, pregnant and breast-feeding women are at higher health risk from eating fish containing high levels of methylmercury, which is a neurotoxin that disrupts the development of the brain in fetuses and young children.

The draft advice recommends that pregnant and breast-feeding women avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel and limit white albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week.

Mercury is deposited in rivers, lakes and oceans once it is emitted from coal-burning power plants, hazardous waste incinerators and other sources. In addition, it leaks from discarded consumer and industrial products.

The EPA and FDA plan to ask the FDA risk advisory committee to evaluate the draft recommendations. The agencies say they will hold public hearings as well, and will accept comments for 30 days following the last advisory meeting and public hearing on the documents.

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