One in four adults in New York City have elevated levels of toxic mercury in their blood -- most likely due to eating a lot of fish, according to a new survey by the city's Department of Health.
Asian and higher-income New Yorkers eat more fish, and have higher average mercury levels, than others both locally and nationally, according to the Health Department. "These mercury levels pose little if any health risk for most adults, but may increase the risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had very high mercury levels during pregnancy," according to the department.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element found at much higher levels because burning coal and certain other industrial processes releases it into the atmosphere. It rains down -- much like acid rain -- and can convert to a toxic form and accumulate in fish in lakes and reservoirs.
Health advisories recommend against eating many kinds of fish for this reason, and women who are or may become pregnant, and children under the age of 15 should pay close attention to their fish intake to avoid over-exposure. Exposure to too much mercury has subtle but potentially profound effects -- lowered IQ, for instance.
The survey is said to be the first of its kind for a U.S. city, so some comparisons are hard to make, but there were some striking conclusions, relative to similar national surveys:
Mothers who are pregnant or breast feeding, particularly, should avoid follow these steps:
High-mercury fish include:
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