Mercury released into the air and then deposited into oceans is increasingly contaminating seafood commonly eaten by people in the United States and globally, report scientists from Dartmouth College, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and colleagues from other institutions in new research in the current issue of the journal Environmental ResearchOpens in New Window and a companion report. The new studies are the culmination of two years of work by 70 mercury and marine scientists from multiple disciplines.
Over the past century, mercury pollution on ocean surfaces has more than doubled as a result of human activities such as coal burning, mining, and other industrial processes. High levels of exposure to mercury through fish consumption has been shown to cause a variety of adverse neurological and reproductive effects in humans and wildlife.
“Oceans are home to large tuna and swordfish, which together account for more than half of the mercury intake from seafood for the overall U.S. population,” said Elsie Sunderland, Mark and Catherine Winkler assistant professor of aquatic science in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH. Sunderland was lead author of a study on mercury in the Gulf of Maine, is a key author of several other mercury studies in the journal, and is a lead author of the companion report. “As consumers, we should be concerned about rising global emissions of mercury because most people eat wild ocean fish, and mercury levels are expected to increase in the major areas where we are harvesting these fish, such as the Pacific Ocean.”