Bad Sushi: One in Four New Yorkers Have Elevated Mercury Levels


Omega-3 fatty acids: good. Mercury: bad.
Photo by verycoolwinter via Flickr

One-quarter of all New Yorkers and almost half of the city’s Asian population have elevated levels of mercury, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported today.

Women living in New York City have blood mercury levels that are three times higher than the nationwide average for women, the report said. New Yorkers of Asian descent had a 40 percent instance of elevated mercury levels while 64% of the foreign-born Chinese people living in New York had higher mercury levels. Increased mercury levels were also associated with higher income, and the frequency and portion size of fish consumed.

The elevated levels do not pose a health risk for adults, the DHMH said, but pregnant women should stay away from species of fish known to have high mercury levels because exposure may increase the risk of cognitive deficits in children.

“Exposure to methyl mercury can be detrimental to the developing brain, a concern for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and parents feeding young children,” the report said. The risk includes:

Very high levels of prenatal exposure, as seen in the 1950s and 1960s in Minamata, Japan, may result in developmental deficits that include mental retardation, cerebellar ataxia, limb deformities, altered physical growth, sensory impairments and cerebral palsy. Children prenatally exposed to MeHg are at increased risks of subtle neurodevelopment deficits. A threshold for these risks has not been identified.

The city’s press release can be found here; the entire report here.