Filed Under: Seafood

Genesis of a Fish Story

How on earth could USA Today have gotten something so wrong? In a front-page “cover story” this morning about fish and mercury, the newspaper fell hook-line-and-sinker for the number one myth about seafood and health:
As many as 600,000 babies may be born in the USA each year with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Wrong. Not even close to being right.
Kathryn Mahaffey, a single Environmental Protection Agency scientist, created this outrageous statistic in 2004 on her own. She estimated how many children would be born each year to U.S. women whose mercury levels exceed the EPA’s “Reference Dose” for mercury. (See the slide at the top of page 5.)
Mahaffey helped to develop this EPA Reference Dose herself. So she should know that it’s set ten times lower than the amount of mercury studies indicate might cause the most minimal health risk. The actual "danger level" is ten times higher. Got it? Good.
Mahaffey’s creative number-crunching wasn’t part of any official EPA statement, and the agency hasn’t publicly supported it. In fact, the activist now precedes her public speeches with a disclaimer noting that she’s not speaking for her federal-government employer.
Almost as unforgivable: USA Today wasted a few column-inches talking to San Francisco doctor-slash-activist Jane Hightower, who continues to claim that the EPA Reference Dose of 5.8 parts-per-million in human blood is a “safety” threshold. It’s not. Again, the safety threshold is ten times higher.
They do lots of things differently on the west coast. Maybe counting is one of them.

For more information about Mahaffey, Hightower, and their willing accomplices in today’s environmental movement, check out

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