PO Box 88 ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:


For Immediate Release:
MAY 6, 1999   

Denise Lee, BREDL  (704) 826-8116
Geneva Johnson, POOH  (704) 821-7147

Study Shows Mercury in Tuna Threatens Developing Babies and Young Children

In a report released today by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), and Prisoners Of Our Homes (POOH), some of the most commonly eaten fish contains levels of mercury that pose a risk to pregnant women and young children. In response to the problem of mercury pollution, health care providers like Kaiser Permanente and New York's Beth Israel Medical Centers are creating model programs for mercury elimination. By phasing out the purchase and use of mercury-containing products and devices, hospitals will eventually decrease the amount of mercury moving up the food chain where it reaches its highest concentrations in top predator fish like tuna, swordfish and shark.

These findings are included in the report, Protecting by Degrees, written by the Environmental Working Group for Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of more than 170 groups dedicated to environmentally responsible health care. During National Hospital Week, May 9 through May 15, Health Care Without Harm member organizations will distribute the report and present awards to local hospitals that have pledged to eliminate mercury.

Test results reported in Protecting By Degrees are consistent with studies done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993. In both instances, chunk light tuna contained levels of mercury that create serious health risks:
  ==> A 140-pound pregnant woman risks subtle but permanent brain damage to her fetus by eating less than half of a six-ounce can of tuna per day.

  ==> An average four-year-old exceeds the EPA's "safe" dose if he or she eats one six- ounce can per week.

"The mercury emissions from David Schoonmaker's BMWNC medical waste incinerator in Matthews, NC is a major concern for our community, and should also alarm citizens across North Carolina" stated, Geneva Johnson POOH President.

Each year, medical waste incinerators alone are estimated to discharge nearly 16 tons of mercury into the air, approximately 10 percent of all mercury air emissions.  Permit limits for BMWNC allow .032lbs/hour/unit of mercury compound emissions. With BMWNC's three units the annual emissions could total 840.96 lbs. 

"The mercury from BMWNC's stacks can travel anywhere from a few hundred feet to thousands of miles away from its original source." stated BREDL community organizer Denise Lee.

"Tuna fish has too much mercury to be eaten regularly by pregnant women and young children. But that's not the fault of the tuna or the people who caught or canned it," explained Charlotte Brody, RN, Co-Coordinator of Health Care Without Harm. "Industries that use mercury and the governments that regulate them must take responsibility for getting mercury out of our fish and out of our children's developing brains."

"It is our goal to add North Carolina hospitals to the list of health care groups like Kaiser Permanente and New York's Beth Israel Medical Center who are leaders in developing a cure for the mercury problem," said Denise Lee, BREDL.

Safe, cost-comparable alternatives exist for most of the mercury use in hospitals. Thermometers and blood pressure-measuring devices are two of the most commonly used mercury-containing devices. A mercury fever thermometer, like those used in the home, contains enough mercury to potentially contaminate 9,000 cans of tuna fish. A desk-mounted sphygmomanometer (used for measuring blood pressure) contains enough mercury to potentially contaminate 492,000 six-ounce cans of chunk light tuna.

Health Care Without Harm is an international campaign made up of health care professionals, hospitals, environmental advocates, organizations of health-impacted individuals, religious organizations and labor unions. The campaign's mission is to transform the health care industry so it is no longer a source of environmental harm by eliminating the pollution in health care practices without compromising safety or care.