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FDA Not Protecting Children from Mercury in Fish

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 5, 2004
2:49 PM
CONTACT: Mercury Policy Project
Michael Bender 802-249-8543

FDA Not Protecting Children From Mercury in Fish, Say Advocates, According
to New Research

WASHINGTON - February 5 - Citing three recently published studies,
advocates today called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to
step up its efforts to limit children's exposure to mercury from fish and
seafood. FDA is currently revising its dietary advisory on mercury in fish,
with a final version due out this spring.

"New findings from the Faroe Islands study and EPA research show clearly
that better dietary advice specifically for children is critically needed,"
said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project. "While some states give
specific advice to children, FDA remains asleep at the wheel when it comes
to protecting children from mercury."

FDA's latest "draft dietary advisory," was tested last week in a focus group
in San Diego. The new advisory is primarily aimed at women of childbearing
age and does not include specific fish consumption recommendations for
children, who weigh less than adults and who can therefore safely consume
much smaller amounts of mercury-containing fish.

"FDA must recognize that kids are not little adults, but are uniquely at
risk from the mercury in their diet," Bender added.

According to the MPP, the recently published results also demonstrate the
importance of an effort to keep consumers' mercury intake within safe
limits, as defined by a safety standard for mercury exposure called the
Reference Dose. The current U.S. standard for mercury is a Reference Dose
adopted several years ago by the Environmental Protection Agency, and
endorsed last year by the FDA. FDA has since said it regards the Reference
Dose as a "useful guideline" but conceded recently that women who followed
its new draft dietary advice on fish consumption could exceed that safety
limit.

That's not acceptable, says Bender. "Damage occurred to the developing
brains of kids in the Faroe Islands study at mercury intakes right around
the Reference Dose. FDA's so-called "action level" of 1 part per million is
four times less stringent than that, and clearly not protective."

The latest research findings were published this week in the Journal of
Pediatrics. Two papers report results of tests of brain and heart function
in 14-year-old children, who have been followed since birth in a large,
long-term study of a population with a high-fish diet in the Faroe Islands,
a Danish territory in the North Atlantic. The investigators found that
damage to the nervous system, associated with relatively higher mercury
exposure during pregnancy and documented in studies of the same individuals
at younger ages, persisted in the 14-year olds, indicating that these
developmental toxic effects are irreversible.

In a second paper, the same investigators found an association between
mercury exposure and less effective control by the nervous system of heart
rate, which suggests a link between mercury exposure in the womb or in
childhood, and the risk of cardiovascular problems later in life.

In a related development, last week EPA scientists using data collected by
the Centers for Disease Control estimated that one in six pregnant women has
enough mercury in her blood to pose a risk of brain damage to her developing
child. This new estimate is double that of a previous assessment, which had
said about 8 percent of US women of childbearing age had elevated blood
mercury levels. The latest EPA estimate, which comes at a time when the Bush
Administration has just relaxed restrictions on mercury air pollution from
coal-burning power plants and other sources, means about 630,000 children
born each year are at risk for lowered intelligence and learning problems
due to mercury effects on their developing brains.

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