According to survey results released yesterday by the New York City Health Department, a surprising one in every four adult New Yorkers' blood is too high in mercury — an increase closely linked to fish consumption. The survey found that Asians and higher-income New Yorkers — who eat more fish on average — had higher mercury levels, with almost half of Asian New Yorkers having elevated blood levels.
The average blood mercury level in women aged 20 to 49 years was 2.46 micrograms per liter, or 3 times the national average. Approximately a quarter of these women have a blood mercury level at or above 5 micrograms per liter. While these elevated levels pose little to no risk for adults, they may delay brain development for children whose mothers had high mercury levels during pregnancy. Mercury can either pass from the mother's bloodstream to the developing fetus or, in small amounts, into breast milk. Health officials warn that early exposure to mercury could cause learning problems.
"No one needs to stop eating fish, but some people may need to change the type and amount they eat. Young children, breastfeeding mothers, and women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should eat fish that are lower in mercury and limit fish that are higher in mercury," said Daniel Kass, the Health Department's Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Surveillance and Policy.
He stressed that people should continue eating fish for its many health benefits, including its high levels of protein and heart-healthy fats. The Health Department has released a set of recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children — appropriately entitled "Eat Fish, Choose Wisely" — that it hopes will help them make the right decisions about which fish are right for them.
According to the brochure, some of the highest mercury fish include Chilean sea bass, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy and shark, amongst others. They recommend a variety of options for consuming fish while keeping exposure low: eat fewer or smaller servings, choose smaller fish and (obviously) choose fish lower in mercury.
To see the full NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NYC-HANES) and its recommendations/tips, go here.