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She ate tuna for lunch a couple of times a week, and the family would have seafood for dinner regularly, often choosing steak fish such as ahi tuna or halibut.
"We just looked for what was fresh," she says. "I thought I was being really healthy, not eating meat, eating lots of fish."

The first sign of trouble was severe fatigue - "the kind where it is impossible to stay awake for more than a few hours at a time," she says. Then pain and weakness in her limbs worsened to the point where she could barely stand. A series of doctors diagnosed or tested her for multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, chronic fatigue syndrome, mononucleosis, diabetes insipidus. One suggested she be evaluated for mental illness.

Finally, she was referred to Dr.Hightower, who tested her for mercury poisoning. Ms. Moro's blood level was 17, more than three times the recommended level, though still below what some doctors think is enough to cause such severe symptoms.

When she stopped eating fish, her symptoms began to disappear. Now, she says, she's "about 85%" back to normal. She keeps a file on mercury that she gives to friends who are thinking about having a baby.

If it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone, she said. "I'm such an average Jane. I live in a suburb; I have 1.5 kids, if you count my dog. I'm not a super-fanatic, not a triathlete. I'm not super-rich or poor. I'm just average. That's what's scary."

Alan Stern, chief of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection who served on a National Academy of Sciences committee on methylmercury two years ago, says it's too soon to draw firm conclusions from Dr.Hightower's study.
"I would consider it to be the very early stages of a clinical case description, and it's not at a point yet where it can be translated into a public health message," he says.

Such reports, he says, "call our attention to the potential of health effects at low levels of exposure (to methylmercury), but they don't make an open-and-shut case."
Even the relief of symptoms reported by people who stop eating fish is inconclusive, he says, because it is "hard to distinguish that from a placebo effect. From an objective standpoint, one cannot say this association goes to the next step of cause and effect."

But if nothing else, Stern says,
consumers and doctors should be alert to the possibility that small exposures to mercury in fish might cause symptoms. His cautionary conclusion: "Individuals should choose their diets wisely."

The amount of canned tuna that is safe to eat each week should be based on body weight: (Source: Fish Facts for Good Health, publication of the Washington Department of Health )

25 lbs - 1 tablespoon.
50 lbs - 2 oz.
75 lbs - 3 oz.
100 lbs - 5 oz.
125 lbs - 6 oz.
150 lbs - 8 oz.
175 lbs - 9 oz.
200 lbs - 10 oz.

Source: Fish Facts for Good Health, publication of the Washington Department of Health.