With its booming seafood economy, the oceanfront wonderland of Maine was the last place we expected to see scientifically challenged fearmongering about fish. But a coalition of activist groups called the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine has confounded common sense with an alarmist report that lumps naturally occurring mercury in with industrial chemicals in a “body burden” study of 13 (yes, just 13) Mainers. Monday’s report, breathlessly covered by Maine newspapers, includes a frightening chart claiming that two of the 13 mercury tests exceeded a “federal risk level for fetal brain development.” But there’s one big problem: It’s not true.
Here’s the scary graph from the Alliance’s “Body Of Evidence” report.
And here’s what it should look like, adjusted to show what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls the “lowest [mercury] levels associated with adverse effects” in the human body. We saw a similar contortion of the truth last year from Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the (one-man) Mercury Policy Project.
How could the Alliance have gotten this so wrong? The federal government applies a ten-fold safety cushion to its guidelines for traces of mercury in fish. So you would have to exceed that advice by 1,000 percent before your health might be in jeopardy. And scientific experts (click here, here, here, and here) agree that the health benefits of eating fish far outweigh any theoretical worries about mercury.