Tuna Surprise

BY ON June 12, 2013

A cartoon showing a family at the beach overlooking a power plant in the distance. The girl is pointing with the caption "Look! Is it true what goes up must come down?"

Since doctors advise pregnant women and women of child-bearing age to limit their tuna consumption, because eating tuna may put their unborn baby at risk for mercury poisoning, I assumed everyone knew the hardcore scoop about tuna. Not so. Famed food writer, Mark Bittman discusses in the New York Times that he did not know the source of mercury poisoning. He asked the experts, and after talking with Moms Clean Air Force senior director, Dominique Browning, Bittman connected the dots between the air spewing out of coal-fired power plants and the tuna fish swimming in our waters.

If you’re like most people (including me, up until a month or two ago), you know that tuna and other top-of-the-food-chain fish contain unsafe levels of mercury and that childbirth-age women and nursing mothers, especially, are warned off these fish. What you don’t know, probably (I didn’t), is the mercury’s source, or how it gets in these fish.

Turns out that about three-quarters of it comes from coal-burning power plants; it dissolves in water, where micro-organisms convert it to methylmercury, a bio-available and highly toxic form that builds up in fish. The longer a fish lives, the more mercury builds in its flesh.

You could, of course, eat less big fish, but there are other sources of mercury: increasingly, it’s being found in vegetables and especially grains like rice that are grown near older, and even no longer functioning, coal-burning plants.

It’s another of those situations where individual solutions don’t really cut it, because mercury is only one of about 80 (!) pollutants spewing from old-fashioned, unfiltered coal-burning plants[1]. And some of the toxins, which are deadly, are just plain unavoidable. Because, unlike mercury, they’re not in tuna and rice. They’re in the air.

It was for these reasons that the journalist (and mother) Dominique Browning started Moms Clean Air Force. “When I was a young mother,” she says, “and was told not to eat tuna, I didn’t make the air-to-food connection; but it’s outrageous that these issues are still being fought 21 years later. I was neither an environmentalist nor an activist, but I could no longer ignore important issues.” ~ Mark Bittman 

You would think all this mercury polluting would cause an outrage – enough to put pressure on the power companies — the ones we pay to provide us with electricity, so they would stop polluting our children with mercury. We did and we won with new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. But now the rule is being contested in courts by some of the worst polluting utilities in the country.

How dare these polluting utilities sue to protect their right to spew toxins into our air!

What’s a tuna-lovin’ mom to do? No tuna sandwiches for my family for now. And I won’t sit idle while our children are poisoned by sickening lawsuits. Which is why I’m asking you to join thousands of parents who signed this petition telling polluters to fund clean air, not lawsuits!

Please READ Mark Bittman’s full article and SIGN this petition.


Cartoon: Liza Donnelly

TOPICS: Coal, MCAF News, Mercury Poisoning, Pollution

  • linda harris

    Better yet, let’s sue them! I can’t believe there aren’t class action lawsuits brought by we the people who thus far seem to be accepting our slow poisoning.

  • BG

    People should come before profits especially in America where we cherish the health, safety, and welfare of the majority of citizens. Big companies like AEP and First Energy need to control their pollution to the environment along with earning enormous profits. They have been rewarded by the American Dream and need to support this country in safeguarding our air air, water, and land from pollution.

  • Alice Cain

    I think it’s time we stopped using coal altogether, at least in the states that have wide open spaces for windfarms. I can’t believe Washington State still has a coal plant. We could produce huge amounts of wind energy and take the coal plant off line forever.

  • Mervyn Kline

    I found out about the Mercury Pollution problem and tuna a while ago. I read some articles about tuna and found out that the information that should be listed in stores is not. Whole Food has some information about the dangers of tuna, but you have to know to go to their website to find the advisory. In my personal opinion, If the stores posted the information about tuna they would not sell a single can of the poisonous stuff.

    Mervyn Kline,PH.D.Mercury Pollution Specialist ,Clean Air Council

  • Ernest Grolimund

    Good article. Mercury is destroying our fish food supply and the oceans. But did you know that LA reported that fireplaces alone in LA put out 4 times more pm than one coal power plant? That would be 4 times more mercury too and carbon black soot. More VOC’s too which turn into ozone with sunlight which is 3,000 times more warming than CO2.
    EDF is rightly challenging NSPS stds for all new wood burning equipment because of this and 6 states or so have joined them. If the new stuff is bad, then the old stuff is worse. That to is in the EDF calculus for eventually the changeout program will remove a lot of old stoves and fireplaces. But many victims of the smoke called dangerous by the CT epidemiologist will suffer while the changes are being made.
    Still, the intent to sue and new NSPS stds are a big step forward and EDF has reportedly already achieved promises to reduce wood smoke pollution from the EPA. So keep up the good work. This step was cheap and could trigger more. Gets two birds or three with one stone. Air pollution, climate change, and mercury.