Effects of Mercury Contaminated Fish on Consumer’s Health sample essay
Mercury is an element that comes naturally in nature, or manufactured by humans. It comes in different forms. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, mercury may be found as metallic mercury, a kind of silver-gray liquid that is harmful when exposed into the air and breathed in; methylmercury, which may be ingested by eating fish; inorganic mercury which can be found in over-the-counter drugs, batteries, and other pharmaceuticals, and is harmful when breathed in or swallowed; and phenylmercury in household products like paints, cosmetics and toiletries and is harmful when breathed in, swallowed or passed through the skin (Kapsch, et. al, 1999).
This paper delves into the mercury and its harmful effects on the fish population and ultimately, adverse effects on human health.
Mercury in the Environment
As noted above, mercury is found naturally in the environment. Paul Kapsch, Matt Landi and Sarah Scwartz writes that natural incidents and accidents like forest fires and volcanic eruptions spew mercury into the air (1999).
The Natural Resource Defense Council adds that power plants and certain chemicals manufacturers, as well as other industrial facilities release mercury into the air through their daily operations. The released mercury eventually ends up in the waterways and oceans. Fish in these ecosystems ingest the mercury, which people, in turn ingest by eating the fish. (NRDC, 2006).
Mercury is also present in many things that one has at home like fluorescent and neon lamps, mercury switches in chest freezes, thermostat probes, thermometers, barometers and other gauges, laboratory solutions and even dental amalgam (Kapsch, et. al, 1999).
Paul Kapsch and his partners outlined the environmental impact of mercury. Citing ExtoxNet (1999), Kapsch, et. al, stated that while mercury enters the environment, concentrations in the air and atmosphere is generally very low. Mercury, however, is deposited into forest ecosystems where it accumulates in highly toxic forms. Eventually it leads up to aquatic ecosystems, which in some cases contribute to human health problems.
The Natural Resource Defense Council added that when mercury enters into the various water systems, bacteria take it in and convert it into a type of methyl mercury, which is easily absorbed by humans (1999). The NRDC also explained that the mercury then “works it way up the food chain” as larger fish eat smaller contaminated fish. Mercury, however, does not break down. Instead it accumulates in fish (1999).
To illustrate the point, the NRDC stated that predatory fishes like sharks and mackerel have been found to have 10,000 times higher mercury concentration (1999).
How Mercury Enters the Body
Mercury can enter the body by breathing it in, swallowing or eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water , or through the skin (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
Consumption of contaminated fish, however, is one of the most dangerous way of getting mercury in the body since it involves methylmercury, which is easily absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract into a person’s bloodstream (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
In 2003, Dr. Jane Hightower, doctor of internal medicine at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, found that 89% of participating patients had high mercury levels. Most of these participants had as much as four times the safe level of mercury in their blood stream. Participants in Dr. Hightower’s study were chosen precisely because of their fish-heavy diets. (NRDC, 2006).
Once in the bloodstream, the mercury goes into various parts of the body. Methylmercury in pregnant women gets passed on into the child’s blood stream and then into the child’s brain. A nursing mother may pass the methylmercury through breast milk. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
The NRDC says that mercury exposure can be particularly hazardous for pregnant women and small children. The NRDC adds that mercury exposure can lead to cerebral palsy, mental retardation, blindness and deafness in infants and fetuses. Even with a minimal exposure, the child may be delayed in learning how to walk and talk, have low attention span and may later on develop learning disabilities (NRDC, 2006).
And the numbers are alarming. In July 2005, researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 17 women of childbearing age have more than 5.8 micrograms of mercury per liter of blood. The CDC stated that this level may pose a risk to the developing child (NRDC, 2006).
Mercury-contaminated fish is not just dangerous for children and pregnant women but it is also dangerous for adults (Mercola.Com, 2003). Mercola.Com related that mercury destroys the nerve tissues, the visual cortex and the cerebellum. It affects complex movements and balance. It also leads to problems in attention span and language. It also decreases concentration, deftness and verbal memory in adults. (Mercola.Com, 2003).
For some adults, mercury poisoning can lead to fertility problems and blood pressure regulation problems. It also causes memory loss, vision loss, numbness in the fingers and toes, and tremors. It is suspected that mercury exposure also leads to heart disease (NRDC, 2006).
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry warned that the nervous system is prone to mercury contamination. The Agency said that in this type of mercury poisoning, some people who consumed seed grains and fish contaminated with large amounts of methyl mercury developed severe brain and kidneys damage. The Agency explains that mercury accumulates in the kidneys, so it damages it more. (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2008).
* * *
The above discussion shows that consumption of mercury contaminated fish is very dangerous for consumer’s health, and is a source of different diseases especially in (but not limited to) children and pregnant women. Studies have concluded that mercury poisoning have caused several conditions and diseases from simple memory loss, loss of concentration, fertility problems to something as grave and irreparable as mental retardation and kidney ailments. And studies on the relationship between mercury and other, more life-threatening diseases like heart ailments are currently underway. The growing body of evidence all points to some disease that can be traced to mercury poisoning.
Consumers have to actively control their fish diets. If they are fond of eating fish, they might find it useful to regularly check and look for advisories regarding mercury contamination in their area. It is also recommended that they regularly check their own mercury levels and if they found their mercury levels higher they have to consult with their doctors immediately.
Since mercury poisoning is more dangerous to pregnant women and small children, it might be best to veer away from eating fish altogether, and take up healthier choices such as vegetables and dairy products. Being more vigilant with regards to one’s diet can reap long-term prevention that would help ensure optimum health.
Authorities need to take much stronger steps to protect a far greater portion of people. Authorities must examine their antiquated safeguards designed to protect an average person from an average amount of methyl mercury in fish and take more protective and realistic actions against exposure to methyl mercury through food. Authorities need to constantly update themselves, as “safe levels” of mercury in the diet are constantly changing. In fact, the trend is that the required safe levels are getting higher with each new research that goes out of the pipeline.
Public health authorities, as well as community leaders, or any health-related organization, must come together to inform, educate and empower the public about the dangers of fish consumption, mercury contamination, and adverse health effects. Information is the best weapon against mercury contamination, without it, no amount of public policy will be sufficient or effective. The public needs to be aware of what mercury does to the body, the diseases associated with it, where mercury could be found, how it gets into your body, what measures are to be done.
More than anything, it is high time to look at more efficient ways of disposing all types of mercury. Since mercury could be found in nature, it will be next to impossible to eradicate it. What one could hope for is to reduce environmental damage from the mercury that we can control. If people could somehow take care and reduce the amount of mercury that goes into the environment as waste, people would be protecting not only the oceans and the fish, but also themselves. Taking care of the environment would ensure sustainability in the future and would drastically decrease mercury–and in fact and principle–all types of contamination.
In effect, stopping or greatly reducing mercury contamination and all the ill effects associated with it takes the effort of everybody in the community, but it starts mainly with your self.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (Content source); Sidney Draggan and Emily
Monosson (Topic Editors). 2008. “Public Health Statement for Mercury.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth November 13, 2007; Last revised January 24, 2008; Retrieved April 2, 2008].
Jeremy Laurence, (8 March, 2007) Fish Contaminated With Mercury ‘Pose Worldwide Threat to
Health. The Independent. Retrieved on 3 April 2008.
Kapsch, Paul, Landi, Matt and Schwartz Sarah. (1999). Mercury. University of Vermont.
Retrieved on 3 April 2008.
Learn About Mercury and Its Effects, (2006) Natural Resource Defense Council. Retrieved on
23rd March 2008.
Mercury-Contaminated Fish Poses Health Risks to Adults, (2003) Mercola.com. Retrieved on
25th March, 2008.
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