The Beacon: Beth's blog

Go Mercury-Free or Go Bust

chlor-alkali plants and mercury, contaminated seafood

Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination released a new research paper today, No Excuses: Communities at Risk Without Mercury-Free Technology, that finds that the last four mercury-based chlorine factories (the "Foul Four") are likely to shut down operations in the coming years if they do not convert to a mercury-free process, costing a total of hundreds of jobs in their local communities. Updating their facilities to mercury-free technology, on the other hand, would mean making an investment to stay in their local communities for the next 30-40 years.

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Ask Grocers to Post Mercury Warning Signs

By now you've probably heard the recent flurry of news stories about mercury contamination levels in tuna sushi and other fish. In the last month, Oceana and three other organizations, including the New York Times, have released the results of different tests showing that mercury levels in sushi and other seafood can be extremely high.

In the wake of these new results, fishing industry groups are urging people to eat more fish in spite of the risks of eating mercury-contaminated seafood.

Help us convince the grocery industry's group to inform shoppers about mercury in fish!

A number of grocery stores, including Kroger, Safeway, and Whole Foods, have joined Oceana's Seafood Contamination Campaign's "Green List" by posting signs about mercury in fish at their seafood counters.

Many more should-be converts remain, so we're asking the grocery industry's trade group, the Food Marketing Institute, to help make mercury signs at seafood counters an industry standard.

The FDA has issued advice for women of child-bearing age and children to avoid or limit their consumption of certain types of fish because research shows high exposure to mercury can interfere with a child's language and coordination development and attention span among other things.

Unfortunately, this information isn't reaching all consumers, as studies have shown that as many as 30 percent of women planning to be or already pregnant do not know mercury in fish could harm their child's development.

Please encourage the FMI to distribute mercury warning signs to grocery stores!

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Beat the Blue Fin Tuna Blues

To help consumers make informed seafood choices, Oceana launched its Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination in 2005 and asked all the major grocery chains nationwide to post the EPA and FDA mercury advice at the point of sale.

Since then, five major companies, including roughly 3,000 grocery stores, representing about 14 percent of the nation's grocery market, have voluntarily agreed to post this information.    

Companies that are actively helping consumers protect their health include Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Safeway, Trader Joe's and some Albertsons stores. Oceana is urging the other national grocery chains, including Costco, Giant Food, Publix, A&P and Giant Eagle to join them.

Oceana recommends that:

  • All grocery stores that sell fish and sushi should post the FDA advice on signs at the point of sale.
  • The FDA should require warning signs to be posted where fish covered by U.S. government advisories are sold, including at grocery store seafood counters.
  • The FDA should consider including fresh tuna (including steaks and sushi) on its "Do Not Eat" list.    
  • The FDA should increase the frequency of its testing of commonly consumed fish, especially fresh tuna of all species commonly consumed.

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New Findings on Mercury in Sushi

Had a chance to read that New York Times article about the high levels of mercury found in tuna sushi?

The story has been making its way around Oceana inboxes, not only because of the important message it carries, but also because it coincides with the release of the Seafood Campaign's latest report, Hold the Mercury: How to Avoid Mercury When Buying Fish.

View the findings in the FULL REPORT.

The report is chock full of newsworthy tidbits, including these interesting facts:

  • The average mercury concentration for tuna steaks bought in grocery stores was 0.68 parts per million (ppm), which is nearly double the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's estimate of 0.38 parts per million for fresh or frozen tuna.
  • Mercury content in sushi tuna was even higher, with an average value of 0.86 ppm.  Fully one-third of sushi tuna samples contained mercury exceeding the FDA "action level."
  • When grocery store seafood counter attendants were asked about the FDA's advice about mercury for women thinking of having children, 87 percent gave either incorrect or incomplete information or simply said they did not know.
  • As an alternative to high mercury swordfish and fresh tuna, sushi mackerel and tilapia tested low in mercury.

Oceana happens to be the largest ocean conservation organization in the U.S. and the largest group working to alert the public of health risks associated with the consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood.

This newest report also evaluates seafood counter personnel knowledge about the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) mercury advisory.

More and that (and more on mercury) later. ...

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From Georgia to Azerbaijan, Chlorine Plants are "Getting Clean"

I've noticed some very scary stories of mercury contamination from old, outdated chlorine plants in the news the last couple of days. The good news is that both of the plants in question are finally getting cleaned up.

First, a chlorine plant in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan helped put that city on the Blacksmith Institute's 2007 list of the Top Ten Most Polluted Places. Apparently the plant spilled a phenomenal 1,566 tons of mercury. That's not pounds, people. It's tons! Fortunately, the World Bank is running a project to clean it up.

Second, the Florida Times-Union reports that a plume of brine contaminated with mercury, arsenic and chromium suspended in groundwater under the former LCP Chemical chlorine plant in Brunswick, GA could reach drinking water supplies 600 feet below if it isn't removed.

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The Big Fish That Ate the Little Fish

Olin: Go Mercury Free PostcardsRight before the holiday weekend, Olin Corp., one of the big fish in the chlorine manufacturing pond, officially swallowed a smaller fish, Pioneer Companies.

Why would ocean lovers care about chemical industry news?

Bigger fish tend to have higher levels of mercury in their systems because mercury in the smaller fish they've eaten accumulates, a phenomenon called "biomagnification." In a similar sense, Olin Corp. now has higher mercury levels as a company.

Before the merger, Olin owned two of only a handful of outdated mercury-polluting chlorine factories left in the U.S. And now that the company is the proud owner of Pioneer's outdated factory too, Olin's count is up to three. Meanwhile, no other company has more than one!

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