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                       U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
                            U.S. Environmental Protection Agency             If ^

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                                                                    EPA-823-R-04-005
                                                                    March 2004

        WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MERCURY IN FISH AND SHELLFISH

                              2004 EPA and FDA ADVICE FOR:
                         WOMEN WHO MIGHT BECOME PREGNANT
                              WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT
                                   NURSING MOTHERS
                                    YOUNG CHILDREN

   Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality
   protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.
   A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health
   and children's proper growth and development. So, women and young children in particular
   should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

   However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from
   mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.  Yet, some fish and shellfish contain
   higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous
   system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish
   eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish. Therefore, the Food and Drug
   Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who
   may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some
   types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

   By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and
   young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they
   have reduced  their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

       1.  Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels
          of mercury.

       2.  Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are
          lower in mercury.

                         Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are
                          shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

                         Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more
                          mercury than canned light tuna.  So, when choosing your two meals
                          of fish  and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal)
                          of albacore tuna per week.

       3.  Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local
          lakes,  rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one
          average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume  any other
          fish during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve
   smaller portions.

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               Frequently Asked Questions about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish:

1. "What is mercury and methylmercury?"
    Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial
    pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into
    methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young
    child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up  in them.  It builds up
    more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the
    levels vary.

2.  "I'm a woman who could have children but I'm not pregnant - so why should I be concerned about
    methylmercury?"
    If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream
    over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to
    drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the
    reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

3. "Is there methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?"
    Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer
    have the highest levels of methylmercury because they've had more time to accumulate it. These large
    fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish
    may be eaten in  the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.

4. "I don't see the fish I eat in the  advisory. What should I do?"
    If you want more information  about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see  the FDA food safety
    website, www.cfsan.fda.gov/~frf/sea-meha.html or the EPA website at www.epa.gov/ost/fish.

5. "What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?"
    Fish sticks and "fast-food" sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.

6. "The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but  what's the advice about tuna steaks?"
    Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing
    your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per
    week.

7. "What if I eat more than the recommended  amount of fish and shellfish in a week?"
    One week's  consumption of fish does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If
    you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back for the next week or two.  Just make  sure you average the
    recommended amount per week.

8. "Where do I get information about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?"
    Before you go fishing, check your Fishing  Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught
    fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. You need
    to check local advisories because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have
    higher or much lower than average levels  of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water
    in which the  fish  are caught.  Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in
    larger amounts.

For further information about the risks of mercury in fish  and shellfish call the U.S. Food and  Drug
    Administration's food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit FDA's Food Safety website
    www.cfsan.fda.gov/seafood1 .html

For further information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, visit the Environmental Protection
    Agency's Fish Advisory website www.epa.gov/ost/fish or contact your State or Local Health Department. A
    list of state or local health department contacts is available at www.epa.gov/ost/fish. Click on Federal,
    State, and Tribal Contacts. For information on EPA's actions to control mercury, visit EPA's mercury
    website at www.epa.gov/mercury.

This document is available on the web at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html.

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