Press Release

Alarmist U.S. Geological Survey Mercury Study Is Irresponsible, Uses Deeply Flawed Standard

Washington – Today the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published a study of 291 fish tissue samples obtained from freshwater sources across the United States between 1998 and 2005, concluding that many of them exhibited signs of “mercury contamination.” The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is disputing the report’s findings, since the USGS based its results on an Environmental Protection Agency standard for methylmercury called an “water quality criterion.” This standard was intended for use by scientists who evaluate water quality – not the healthfulness of eating fish that swim in that water. Using established standards for seafood safety, every single fish identified in the new USGS study is safe for consumers to eat.

“Using the EPA’s water standards to give fish a skull-and-crossbones is ridiculous,” Center for Consumer Freedom Director of Research David Martosko said in response to the USGS study. “We’re not talking about lead in paint. Fish is a health food. Study after study has shown that the known health advantages from eating seafood far outweigh any hypothetical health risk.”

The highest level of mercury in any fish the USGS found was 1.95 parts per million, which is still less than one-fifth of the lowest level of mercury associated with adverse health effects in the established scientific literature. The Food and Drug Administration and the EPA both include a ten-fold safety margin in their consumer advisories, masking the truly enormous mercury levels that would be required to outweigh the significant health benefits derived from eating seafood.

Abnormally high levels of mercury have caused neurological problems in a very tiny number of cases (notably in Japan and Iraq, several decades ago). But mercury levels in domestic fish aren’t anywhere near high enough to cause real concern. And the USGS study has absolutely nothing to say about commercial seafood that consumers purchase in stores and restaurants every day. U.S. women of childbearing age should also be aware that the entire medical literature contains exactly zero cases of fetal mercury toxicity related to fish consumption.

Martosko added: “There’s nothing new about tiny traces of mercury in fish-it’s been there since the first ocean creatures evolved. But we need omega-3 fatty acids and other super-nutrients in our diets. Scaring people away from seafood is the wrong approach to take, especially when no one can point to a real-world health risk.”

To test-drive the Internet’s only seafood calculator that balances the risks and benefits of fish consumption side-by-side, visit

Founded in 1996, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. For more information, visit


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