A SCIENTIST WHO KNOWS HIS FISH
When Marian Burros of The New York Times launched an investigation into the levels of mercury in tuna sushi, she came to RWJMS expert Michael Gochfeld for help. The study made the newspaper’s front page.
Mercury was present in all the samples tested. Even more alarmingly, some of the sushi had such high levels that the FDA could take legal action to remove it from the market. Mercury, an environmental pollutant, is found in all fish, but some species have higher levels than others. Studies have linked a seafood-rich diet to elevated mercury levels. Exposure to mercury carries many health risks, including neurological damage and a possible link to cardiovascular disease. Gochfeld, who treats patients with elevated levels of mercury, says, “People who enjoy seafood can get the health benefits of fish without placing themselves at high risk of mercury contamination.” His recommendation to all: Eat fish selectively, choosing those with low mercury levels (salmon and catfish are two), and don’t eat tuna sushi more than once a month.
The sushi study made waves throughout the media world, receiving additional coverage from the Associated Press, Seattle Times, USA Today, several television stations, and other news outlets. Gochfeld, a former chair of the New Jersey Mercury Task Force, is accustomed to making news. A study done for the Chicago Tribune a few years ago found high levels of mercury in canned tuna, and also garnered major headlines. He and Burger evaluate the health risks of fish consumption well beyond the state’s borders, in the Savannah River and in North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as distant locales, including the Caribbean, Singapore and the Amchitka and Kiska Islands in the Aleutians. They have published more than 20 popular and scientific studies on the subject. Among their current projects is an evaluation of mercury levels in tuna sushi purchased in stores and restaurants throughout New Jersey.