NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 19, 2005

An alarmist campaign over mercury is being driven by the claim that 630,000 babies are born each year with elevated concentrations of mercury in their blood. But this number is misleading, say Willie Soon and Robert Ferguson of the Center for Science and Public Policy.

The figure is based on a 2003 survey from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which concluded that due to elevated blood mercury levels in a small percentage of women of childbearing age, hundreds of thousands of newborns babies had blood mercury levels that were above the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recommended "safe" dose, potentially leading to brain damage and learning disabilities in children.

However, the supporting studies are inappropriate for the typical U.S. diet. For example:

  • The EPA's safe mercury dose was based on studies of people who consumed whale meat and blubber containing multiple chemicals.
  • Additionally, a recent survey in Japan indicated that 87 percent of the population had mercury levels above the EPA's "safe" dose, leading one to conclude that several generations of Japanese are brain-damaged or that the EPA's "safe" dose is wrong.
  • Hong Kong children have 10 times the blood mercury levels of U.S. children, yet they, along with children in Asian nations, consistently outperform U.S. children on international standardized math and science tests.
  • Finally, actual CDC data from 1999 to 2000 shows that 1 percent of 705 children had blood mercury levels above the "safe" dose, while a 2001 to 2002 survey showed only 0.5 percent exceeding the level.

However, the truth about mercury has barely been publicized due to the overwhelming hype over the dangers of mercury. As a result, pregnant women are being scared out of consuming fish, which contains nutrients vital to fetal brain development and maternal health.

Source: Willie Soon and Robert Ferguson, "Eat More Fish!" Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2005.

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