Is your skin clean? Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients you should avoid

Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies and everything we put on it gets absorbed within seconds, including toxins.

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

We are constantly bombarded to use the latest shampoo if we want to have voluminous and shiny hair, fragrant deodorant to attract the ladies or gents, or creams that will make our skin “healthy” and clear.

We buy all these products thinking they are “good” for us and apply them daily, trusting that the long and unpronounceable list of ingredients are not hiding anything that could potentially harm us.

But, do you really know what is your soap, shampoo, moisturizer, makeup, deodorant and lipstick? Do you know what you are applying to your body daily?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common and potentially dangerous ingredients that are hiding in our everyday personal care products:

1- Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben):

Parabens are one of the most common cosmetic preservatives, they are used to inhibit microbial growth and extend shelf life. Unfortunately it can cause skin rashes, and most importantly, it has been found in great concentrations in human breast tumors. There are no studies yet that confirm that parabens can cause cancer. But the fact that some cosmetic firms are stopping the use of this ingredient and labeling their products “pareben free” makes me want to get very far away from them.

2-Synthetic Fragrance:

Fragrances used in cosmetics are usually synthetic and can have as many as 200 ingredients even though we just see “fragrance” in the label. Synthetic fragrances can cause severe or chronic headaches, allergies, dizziness, rash, coughing, skin irritation and hyperpigmentation.

3-Phthalates

Phthalates are found in many soft and flexible plastics as well as in many care products such as shampoo or nail polish. They are usually a “hidden” ingredient in “fragrance” and can be identified as DBP (di-n-butyl Phthalate) or DEP (diethyl Phtalate) in a cosmetic ingredient list.

Phtalates have been found to be hormonal disruptors (specially in men). They cause infertility, low sperm count and structural abnormalities in animal’s reproductive organs. Some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer (the U.S. Center for Disease Control).

Image via Time, Inc.

4-Imidazolidinyl Urea And DMDM Hydantoin

Often used as preservatives. Both chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic. They can be found in shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths, baby wipes and other skin care products. They may be listed as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium 15, etc.

Exposure to formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions, hormonal disruption, affect the reproductive health, nervous system damage and suppressed immune system among others.

5-Triclosan

Triclosan is a common antimicrobial agent that is found in antibacterial soaps, many deodorants, toothpaste and other cosmetics.

It has been linked to hormone disruption and the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Along with its negative health effects, triclosan also impacts the environment, ending up in lakes, rivers and other water sources, where it is toxic to aquatic life.

Triclosan has proved to be both dangerous and unnecessary. In 2005, the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan were superior to plain soap and water for protecting consumers from bacteria.

Triclosan also accumulates in fatty tissues. Studies have found concentrations of triclosan in three out of five human milk samples as a result of exposure through personal care products containing triclosan.

6-DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)

These are used as foaming and emulsifying agents in lotions, shampoos, facial cleaners, conditioners, gels, moisturizer and soaps. They are used for the consistency and texture they give to these products even though they can be highly toxic.

They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, dryness of the hair and skin. But most importantly, there are numerous studies that associate DEA and TEA with various types of cancer in lab animals.

Look out for Cocamide DEA, Cocamide Diethanolamine, DEA Lauryl Sulfate, Diethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate, Lauramide DEA, Lauramide Diethanolamine, Linoleamide DEA, Linoleamide Diethanolamine, Oleamide DEA, Oleamide Diethanolamine, TEA or Triethanolamine on product labels.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of N-nitrosodiethanolamine — .” IARC recommends that NEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded: “There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrosodiethanolamine in experimental animals.”

7-Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

This is a cheap and harsh detergent used in many shampoos and soaps for its ability to foam. Often derived from petroleum, it causes eye irritation, dry scalp, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. It’s used in thousands of cosmetic products and while its level of toxicity is still debated, some claim that it contains endocrine disruptors and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (a potential carcinogen). And while it may not be toxic on its own, in combination with other ingredients, it can can form carcinogenic compounds. Also,recent studies done in Japan show that it can damage DNA in cells.
By Corbis
8-Lead and Other Heavy Metals

Lead may be a contaminant in over 600 different cosmetic products, and has been found in most lipsticks and nail polish.
In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks. The results showed that 65% of lipsticks contained lead. Lead-contaminated brands included L’Oreal, Cover Girl and even a $24 tube of Christian Dior.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a study in 2009 that found lead in all samples of lipstick it tested, at levels four times higher than those previously found.
FDA found the highest lead levels in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L’Oreal (L’Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. Yet FDA has thus far failed to take action to protect consumers.

Mercury is also present in many eye shadows and mascaras but no detailed studies have been conducted yet.

Also, many deodorants  and anti-prespirants still use aluminum which has been linked to breast cancer in numerous studies.  Please look up your deodorant’s ingredient list and if it has any aluminum based compounds replace it for an aluminum free alternative (there are many available everywhere and are just as effective).

These are just a few of the “hidden” toxic ingredients in our every day personal care products, and just like with everything that we eat and drink, we must read ingredient labels before putting anything in our bodies.

Applying some of these chemicals everyday for 5, 10, 20 or more years must have some negative consequence to our health. We should be less trusting of ingredients that we can’t recognize or  understand.

Sources:

Engulfed by Plastic

Plastics are part of most of our daily activities. From the moment we wake up and use our plastic toothbrush, soaps and cosmetics from plastic containers, drink and eat foods also kept or wrapped in plastic, and go to work in front of our plastic computers and sit on our plastic chairs. We then go shopping and use plastic bags to transport stuff contained in plastic, drink from plastic bottles, and use our plastic TV’s and phones.

Only in the U.S. we use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds! (By Chris Jordan)

And when we are done we just throw the plastic “away” and buy some more the next day, and the next, for the rest of our lives.

2 million Plastic Bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes (By Chris Jordan)

But where does plastic come from?

The process of making plastic begins with carbon from petroleum, natural gas or coal. Elements can be combined in different ways to achieve a  different type of plastic. The final product can range from a hard and shatter proof plastic container to a soft and flexible plastic wrap.

Plastics are durable, cheap, light and can be made into almost anything.

And it’s these useful properties which make plastics so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics do not degrade and stay in the environment for ever. Plastics “photo-degrade”, a process in which it is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic particles, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic.

It makes no sense to make disposable items such as water bottles or plastic bags that we are going to use for only a few minutes out of a material that is going to last forever in the environment.

And where does all this plastic end up?

Most of the plastic we use ends up in one of the overflowing landfills around the globe, but a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Only a small fraction gets recycled.

Plastic trash is found in the most remote parts of our oceans

Our oceans are becoming plastic dumps and marine life is taking a big toll.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, seals, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags or plastic pieces mistaken for food.

Plastic bags look like jelly fish to most marine life

Sea turtles mistake plastics for food

Plastics are found even in the most remote parts of the ocean.

There are areas in the ocean where plastic accumulates more than in other places due to the ocean currents. One of the most studied is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that has concentrations in some areas of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size as twice the area Texas to the size of the continental United States.

These pictures show examples of marine life impacted by plastics (the photos have not been manipulated):

Albatros Stomach filled with Plastics

Plastic Seal

Turtle in Plastic Ring

What can we do!?

It’s almost impossible to avoid using plastics, but there are a few things that we can easily do to stop dumping plastics into the environment

– Stop buying plastic water bottles, bring your own water bottle around and use water filters at home. It’s even better for your health since plastic bottles can leach nasty chemicals into the water.

You can get some cool bottles at KleanKanteen or Sigg.

-Stop using Plastic bags. Use reusable bags instead! Whether you are shopping for groceries, clothes or  anything else always bring your own bag.

You can get really nice reusable bags at any grocery store, but any bag that you have around the house will do. This are also some alternatives: Ecobags, Chicobags, Reuseit, and SnackTaxi for your sandwiches and lunches!

-Buy Less Packaged Food: Buy in bulk or get food and goods that come in the least amount of package as possible.

-Use soap bars and be mindful of the plastic containers that you buy and if possible avoid them.

-Recycle: Get a recycling bin from your local recycling program or go to Earth 911 a website that allows you to put in your zip code and any material you want to recycle. It will give you the phone number of the nearest facility in charge of collecting that material.

Sources:

Bag it the Movie

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Chris Jordan

OCEANA

GREENPEACE

NOAA

Will REDD help save our Forests?

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a very controversial measure. Environmentalists don’t seem to agree if it’s a good idea due to its lack of clarity.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the entire global transportation sector combined.

Deforestation in Amazon, Brazil

Rainforests provide essential ecosystem services; they absorb CO2, release oxygen, regulate global rain and humidity patterns and are home to most plants and animal species in the planet.

Therefore what REDD stands for is in theory wonderful. Reducing deforestation is key in order to fight global warming.

REDD’s basic premise is that if  industries in developed nations want to continue releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere they would have to pay for parts of tropical rainforest or rainforest “regeneration projects” in other parts of the world such as Brazil or Indonesia.

REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon market and will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory compensate for the polluters’ emissions.

REDD detractors state that offsets allow polluting governments and corporations -which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere- to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South.

Other major concerns in the REED program are the lack of agreement on the definition of forest degradation, the specific factors causing deforestation, or the funding sources and administrators.

Most local NGO’s agree that indigenous people or local organizations  should be the ones involved in forest regeneration projects  instead of foreign organizations or centralized governments who are often out of touch or easily corrupted.

According to Greenpeace Forest campaigner ” The market oriented draft, which focuses more on investment rather that reducing deforestation, only benefits big companies which huge emissions”.

Greenpeace also explains that from an environmental perspective, REDD will not save the climate nor protect forests, nor will it stop dangerous emissions levels. In fact, they state that REDD will offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution.

Orangutans face extinction due to deforestation. REDD could help save them if implemented correctly by preserving the last Indonesian rainforests and tackling the root of their habitat loss: expansion of palm oil plantations.

Jane Goodall is among one of the REDD supporters, and she believes REDD is a great idea because saving parts of rainforests will be able to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Many argue that she is just “desperate” and “naive” to think that REDD will work to save large areas of rainforests or promote forest regeneration in a sustainable and effective manner.

REDD could in fact be a wonderful measure. But all players need to agree on basic principles. Also funding sources and administration must be open.

REDD should never be used as a cheap way to pay off extra CO2 emissions. Fines should be much higher for corporations who pollute more than established. The fine money could in turn be used to buy land to be kept untouched by developers, or to promote sustainable forest regeneration projects where indigenous people should be heavily involved.

The Big Spill

In these last few months I’ve seen numerous images of dolphins, pelicans and turtles  floating in the deadly and unfortunately coveted oil that is now spilled all over the Gulf of Mexico. But despite the media “bombarding” I still didn’t quite have a complete picture on what went wrong.

 

Sea Turtle Conservancy

 

 

By Charlie Riedel

 

The BP Gulf spill is the “worst environmental disaster in U.S. history” and no one still knows the extent of this catastrophe or how many generations will witness its devastating consequences.

Let’s start by looking back a year before the explosion happened.

On April of 2009 the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling, gave BP a “categorical exclusion” from requirements to prepare a detailed environmental impact report because they thought a spill to be highly “unlikely”.

The MMS claimed that the likelihood of a spill was less than 1% and that if a spill were to happen it wouldn’t be significant or release much oil.

But on April 20th of 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, turning  one of the world’ s most advanced drill rigs into a pile of twisted metal and putting the MMS and BP to shame.

Initial reports estimated a flow of oil of 1000 barrels per day, a few days later it went up to 5000, and by the end of April it went up to 25,000 barrels per day.

By the beginning of  May the  realization that this spill was the worst in U.S. history was undeniable, the final estimates went up to 100,000 barrels per day!

BP’s Response

Before the spill, BP had an environmental response plan which claimed that the company could recover 500,000 barrels per day using current technology, and therefore the worst case scenario spill would not pose any danger. In this report BP also claimed that a worst case scenario spill would not harm any of the fisheries or marine life of the Gulf of Mexico, including walruses, sea otters and sea lions.

As you are probably thinking, there are no sea otters, sea lions or walruses in the Gulf. We later learned that BP copied and pasted word by word an old environmental response plan prepared for the arctic. They obviously did not take preventing an environmental disaster seriously and as a consequence they have endangered our finite and valuable resources with their carelessness and incompetence.

So what did BP do in order to “try” to clean up their mess?

Mainly two things: Burn the spilled oil and pour chemicals (dispersants) into the water.

These two methods were used to cover their “backs” in the easiest and cheapest way without taking the long-term consequences into consideration. BP priorities are clear, economic profits before people or the environment.

 

NOAA

 

By burning tons of oil, not only did they release massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but also sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds.

And they were not just burning oil, countless turtles and other marine animals like dolphins and whales were also burnt alive as shown in the picture below.

According to the NY times, the dispersant used by BP (Corexit) was banned in the UK over a decade ago even though it’s EPA approved.

Corexit was also used in the Exxon-Valdez spill and has been linked to human health problems including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, blood disorders and reproductive  problems.

Dispersants like Corexit break up oil into droplets that linger longer in the water instead of collecting at the surface.  Their use in the Gulf spill has limited the instances (and images) of oil-covered seabirds, but has kept the effects of the spill mostly underwater.

Dispersants have mostly moved the oil from the surface to the deep waters of the Gulf. What is now feared is that these deep-sea pockets of oil are fastly approaching the gulf loop current which could spread the oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

The most conservative figures estimate a total of 5 million barrels of oil spilled to the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists and government officials estimate that BP burned  less than 1/4 of the spill,  another quarter had dispersed into scattered molecules, 1/4 has dispersed into small droplets which are extremely toxic to animals, and the last quarter (five times the size of the Exxon-Valdez spill) remains as sheens on the water or tall balls in beaches.

Environmental and Social Impact

The long-term consequences of this tremendous disaster is still unknown. The oil spill’s impact on the environment and socio-economics of the region will continue for decades to come.

In the first four weeks after the explosion that killed 11 workers and started the massive leak, wildlife officials say at least 500 birds, 250 turtles and 50 mammals, were found dead along the US Gulf coast.  In the following months after the explosion, thousands of fishes, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles were killed by the oil, and  their eggs and offspring poisoned.

Most scientists agree that the damage to the Gulf wildlife will last for many generations due to the high toxicity of the area.

Louisiana, the nearest state to the leaking well, around 42 miles offshore, has been the most impacted. The state’s governor stated in May that almost 200 of its 400-mile coast had been polluted at that time.

The U.S. government has declared a “fishery disaster” in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama due to the oil spill. A quarter of US waters in the Gulf of Mexico are closed to fishing, hitting the livelihoods of shrimpers, oyster-catchers and charter boat operators.  Marine biologists agree that “every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying”.

Following is a map showing the fishery closure boundary (as of June 2010):

Most government officials said the impacts could take years to unfold. Scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated that “this is just a giant experiment going on and we’re trying to understand scientifically what this means”.

One of the marine species that has been mostly affected are sea turtles. Their range is shown in the map below.

View (courtesy of NASA) of the spill from space:

Looking forward

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is a direct consequence of our addiction to oil. The most important conclusion we should take from this disaster is the urgent need to shift towards clean renewable energies.

The prize of oil becomes way too expensive if we take all its externalities into consideration. The clean up, environmental and health costs and impact on the local economy are all externalities that should be considered when paying for oil.  In the long run green energy is not only cleaner and safer but also much cheaper!

We only have a few more years of oil left before we exhaust the last reserves on earth, and we should be moving towards renewables at a much higher speed.

President Obama just lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling, so unfortunately it looks like we will continue to drill until the last drop of oil, no matter how many more accidents, spills or deaths this may cause.

Instead, we should be focusing in investing more into clean renewable energies, that is the only way to ensure an accident free and clean future for us and our kids.

Sources:

National Geographic

NOAA

NY Times

Aquaponics, the future of gardening?

Imagine having a self sustaining food source in your backyard (or community) where vegetables and protein can be grown in a fairly small space without the use of sythetic fertilizers,chemicals, or even soil!

This is what aquaponics, a system using fish and ciruclating water propose:

In this closed system fish waste accumulates in water which becomes high in nutrients and this water is then fed to plants growing hydroponically.

Plants take up all the nutrients from the water which is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water, the systems rely on the relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and also can support different types of vegetation.

Some examples of Aquaponics, small and large scale:
Sources: NY Times

Self Sufficient Buildings and Vertical Farms for the Future

desertification_1

Desertification due to unsustainable agricultural practices

By 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By then the population increase (minimum of 3 billion people more) paired with a massive loss of fertile soils due to erosion, desertification, salinization, etc. will surely lead to disastrous food shortages.

We won’t have enough fertile soils to grow crops for all, and we certainly won’t want to cut down the little forest left to grow more food, the consequences of doing so would be devastating.

But some of the most ground-braking architects and scientists have already come up with a solution: self sustainable buildings with vertical farms.

Depending on the crops being grown, a single vertical farm using  hydroponic growing methods could also allow thousands of farmland acres to be permanently reforested.

One of the first models of vertical farming was conceived by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, who believes that vertical farm skyscrapers could help fight global warming.

Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers  producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying waste water.  Despommier estimates that one of these buildings could feed 50,000 people for a year. A vertical farm could be self-sustaining and even produce a net output of clean water and energy.

Sky Farming (New York Magazine)

Sky Farming (New York Magazine) designed by Rolf Mohr

1. The Solar Panel Most of the vertical farm’s energy is supplied by the pellet power system . This solar panel rotates to follow the sun and would drive the interior cooling system, which is used most when the sun’s heat is greatest.
2. The Wind Spire
An alternative (or a complement) to solar power, conceived by an engineering professor at Cleveland State University. The wind spire uses small blades to turn air upward, like a screw.

3. The Glass Panels
A clear coating of titanium oxide collects pollutants and prevents rain from beading. The rain slides down the glass, maximizing light and cleaning the pollutants and it’s then collected for filtration.

4. The Control Room
The vertical-farm environment is regulated from here, allowing for year-round, 24-hour crop cultivation.

5. The Architecture Circular design uses space most efficiently and allows maximum light into the center. Modular floors stack like poker chips for flexibility.

6. The Crops

The vertical farm could grow fruits, vegetables, grains, and even fish, poultry.

The vertical farm doesn’t just grow crops indoors, it also generates its own power from waste and cleans up sewage water.

skyfarming2

New York Magazine

1. The Evapotranspiration Recovery System
Nestled inside the ceiling of each floor, its pipes collect moisture, which can be used as drinking water.

2. The Pipes
Work much like a cold bottle of Coke that “sweats” on a hot day: Super-cool fluid attracts plant water vapors, which are then collected as they drip off .  Despommier estimates that one vertical farm could capture 60 million gallons of water a year.

3. Black-Water Treatment System
Wastewater taken from the city’s sewage system is treated through a series of filters, then sterilized, yielding gray water—which is not drinkable but can be used for irrigation. (Currently, New York city throws 1.4 billion gallons of treated waste water into the rivers each day.)

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

4. The Crop Picker
Monitors fruits and vegetables with an electronic eye. Current technology, called a Reflectometer, uses color detection to test ripeness.

5. The Field
Maximization of space is critical, so in this rendering there are two layers of crops (and some hanging tomatoes). If small crops are planted, there might be up to ten layers per floor.

6. The Pool
Runoff from irrigation is collected here and piped to a filtration system.

7. The Feeder
Like an ink-jet printer, this dual-purpose mechanism directs programmed amounts of water and light to individual crops.

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

8. The Pellet Power System
Another source of power for the vertical farm, it turns nonedible plant matter (like corn husks, for example) into fuel. Could also process waste from New York’s 18,000 restaurants.

9 to 11. The Pellets
Plant waste is processed into powder (9), then condensed into clean-burning fuel pellets (10), which become steam power (11). At least 60 pellet mills in North America already produce more than 600,000 tons of fuel annually, and a 3,400-square-foot house in Idaho uses pellets to generate its own electricity.

Sumarazing some benefits of vertical Agriculture:

1-Uses less space and resources than traditional agriculture.

2-Agriculture land can be converted back to forest.

3-Dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, shipping, etc).

4-No massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters.

5-Less likelihood of genetically modified strains entering the “natural” plant world.

6– All food could be grown organically, without herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, eliminating agricultural runoff.

7– It recycles and purifies water.

8-Generation of energy via methane  from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals, supplying not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.

9-Can have applications for arid environments or refugee camps as a food production source.

10-Great impact in reducing green house emissions.

Some other models of vertical agriculture:

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

To learn more about vertical farming designs:

http://www.verticalfarm.com/

Avoiding Fishy Mercury

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Mercury Bioaccumulation in Fish

Fish consumption is generally very healthy. They contain high quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that promotes healthy cardiovascular systems.

In a recent article I discussed different fish based on their environmental impact and fishing practices and suggested Eco-friendly fish for your consumption. Today I want to consider mercury levels in fish and its health effects, especially in kids and pregnant women.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element, which is found in soil, rocks, lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the atmosphere and water from man made sources, such as coal generated power plants, mining operations and paper processing plants.

It is first released into the air and then enters the water with precipitation. Once in the water, methane-generating bacteria turn the mercury into methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. Fish consume methyl mercury through their diet and absorb it from the water. Predatory fish (fish that eat other fish) and older fish generally contain higher levels of methyl mercury than vegetarian or smaller fish.

Mercury bio-accumulates in fatty tissues. This means is that when a larger fish eats a smaller fish, it accumulates the level of methyl-mercury that the smaller fish contained. When it eats another smaller fish, it accumulates some more methyl mercury. The more fish it consumes, the more methyl-mercury it accumulates, and the level does not drop. Then along comes an even bigger fish and eats the fish that ate the smaller fish. This large predatory fish accumulates all the mercury of the fish it just ate and so the vicious circle continues.

And then when we humans eat a juicy fillet of that large fish, we consume all that accumulated mercury.

That’s why predatory long lived fish have the highest concentrations of mercury in their tissues, and those are the ones that we should avoid.

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Coal Burning Power Plant (UWEC)

Mercury can cause damage to the nervous system if consumed in sufficient amounts over a period of time. When you eat fish that contains methyl mercury, it is absorbed through the intestine and spread throughout the body. It affects the nervous system because it easily enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury can cross the placenta affecting the growing fetus. Methyl mercury is also passed through breast milk, increasing the risk of delays in brain development. The child may experience delayed motor skills and learning problems.

Most governmental, health and environmental organization recommends pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children to limit or stop the consumption of predatory fish such as tuna, shark, grouper and swordfish. For the remainder of the population, the standard recommendation is to consume these fish no more than once every two weeks to a month (depending on body weight).

Following you’ll find a list of fish with high, medium and low levels of MERCURY:

HIGH: Swordfish(*), Marlin, Tuna(*), Shark(*), Grouper (*), King Mackerel.

MEDIUM: Bass, Cod (*), Halibut, Lobster, Mahi Mahi(*), Snapper.

LOW: Sardines, Oysters, Salmon, Crab, Tilapia, Shrimp (*), Trout, Herring, Mackerel (not king), Clams.

(*) Highly Environmentally Destructive Practices

SOURCES

EPA

NRDC

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire