Global Consensus on Mercury: Scientists Defend Science Journalists

Data on mercury levels in tuna sushi prompts open letter
February 4, 2008

Global Consensus on Mercury: Scientists Defend Science Journalists


Mercury has again been in the news with the release of new data on mercury levels in tuna sushi by the New York Times and Oceana/Mercury Policy Project study. 

According to the Mercury Policy Project “While the results were startling - around one of three pieces of tuna tested had levels above FDA's action level of 1 PPM - the attack by special interests against those covering the news was swift and erroneous.  Seemingly, according to these special interests, everyone including pregnant women and children could eat as much high mercury fish as they wanted, without any risk”.  In response, 29 mercury experts from 11 countries signed on to the following open letter to set the record straight:



February 1, 2008

There is no longer a need to debate whether the writings of journalists such as Ms. Sharon Begley (Newsweek) and Ms. Marian Burros (New York Times) are credible or biased, because there is a global consensus among scientists addressing the toxicity of mercury, its sources and the  implications of both on public health. This consensus has been documented and is available to the public. As it turns out, their writings are consistent with that consensus.

Many of us joined over 1,000 of the world's foremost mercury experts for the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant.  Together we developed a consensus declaration that addresses some of the specific points that have been raised here and elsewhere in the discussion around the New York Times article and the Oceana/Mercury Policy Project study. Many of us also have published peer reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

While the consensus declaration was not cause for tremendous alarm, it clearly highlighted the need to recognize that mercury levels in fish are cause for concern and that sensitive populations should choose low mercury fish in order to get the benefits of seafood while avoiding the risks of mercury. The consensus included the following points summarized below:

 - About two thirds of the mercury in our environment is derived from human activities

 - Mercury is highly toxic, biomagnifies in the aquatic food web and places humans at risk if they consume high levels of fish that are high on the food chain.

 - In many populations there is evidence that current levels of exposure are sufficient to affect several physiological systems and as a result      current mercury exposure levels constitute an important public health problem.

 - Methylmercury affects nervous system development and there is sufficient evidence to warrant the prudent selection of fish in the diet, specifically for pregnant women and children.

 - Long-lasting effects of fetal methylmercury exposure have been documented in children throughout the world.

Rather than following the selective science approach, and chasing down one or two studies that support a particular viewpoint, we recommend anyone who is truly interested should benefit from the full weight of the evidence by reading the scientific consensus in the Conference Declaration which is available here: pdf




  Henry A. Anderson, MD

  Chief Medical Officer

  Wisconsin Division of Public Health

  Madison, WI


  H.Vasken Aposhian, PhD

  Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

  Professor of Pharmacology

  The University of Arizona

  Tucson, AZ


  John Bolton, MD, FAAP

  Clinical Professor of Pediatrics

  University of California, San Francisco


  Dr. Birger Heinzow, MD

  State Social Services Agency

  Dept. for Healthcare -- Environmental Health



  David R. Brown Sc.D.

  Faculty member

  Applied Ethics

  Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT


  Richard W. Clapp, D.Sc., MPH


  Boston University School of Public Health

  Boston, MA


  Prof. Dr. Ralf Ebinghaus

  Department for Environmental Chemistry

  Institute for Coastal Research

  GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht, Germany


  Prof. Xinbin Feng, PhD

  Vice Director

  State Key Laboratory of Environmental Geochemistry

  Institute of Geochemistry

  Chinese Academy of Science

  Guiyang 550002 China


  Philippe Grandjean, MD, PhD

  Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health

  Department of Environmental Health

  Harvard School of Public Health

  Boston, MA


  Wendy J. Heiger-Bernays, PhD

  Associate Professor

  Department of Environmental Health

  B.U. School of Public Health

  Boston, MA


  Jane Hightower, MD

  California Pacific Medical Center

  San Francisco, CA


  Milena Horvat, PhD

  Department of Environmental Sciences

  Jozef Stefan Institute

  Ljubljana, Slovenia


  Tord Kjellstrom, Med Dr, PhD, MEng

  Visiting Fellow

  Australian National University

  Canberra, Australia


  Lynda Knobeloch, PhD

  Research and Toxicology Unit Leader

  Wisconsin Division of Public Health

  Madison, WI


  Marc Lucotte, PhD

  Universite du Quebec a Montreal, GEOTOP

  Montreal, Quebec, Canada


  Kathryn R. Mahaffey, PhD

  Research Professor

  Boston University School of Public Health

  Boston, MA  USA


  Peter Maxson


  Concorde East/West Sprl

  Brussels, Belgium


  Donna Mergler PhD

  professeure emerite


  Universite du Quebec a Montreal

  Montreal, Quebec, Canada


  Dave McBride


  Washington State Department of Health

  Olympia, WA


  John Munthe, PhD

  Department Head

  IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

  Gothenburg, Sweden


  Lewis Pepper, MD, MPH

  Boston University School of Public Health

  Boston, MA


  Darren Rumbold, PhD

  Associate Professor of Marine Science

  Depart. of Marine and Ecological Sciences

  Fort Myers, FL


  Mineshi Sakamoto, PhD

  Director International Affair and Environmental Sciences

  National Institute for Minamata Disease

  Kumamoto, Minamata, Japan


  Ellen K. Silbergeld, PhD

  Professor, Environmental Health Sciences

  Johns Hopkins University

  Bloomberg School of Public Health

  Baltimore MD


  Alan H. Stern, Dr.P.H., D.A.B.T.

  Adjunct Associate Professor

  Dept. of Environmental and Occupational Health

  University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Public Health


  Raphael Stricker, MD

  California Pacific Medical Center

  San Francisco, CA


  Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP

  Assistant Professor

  Departments of Community and Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics

  Mount Sinai School of Medicine, NY, NY


  Pal Weihe, MD

  Chief Physician

  Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health

  The Faroese Hospital System, The Faroe Islands


  Roberta F. White, PhD, ABPP/cn

  Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Health

  Boston University School of Public Health

  Boston, MA


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