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All Fish In US Streams Have Mercury Contamination

Ah mercury. Considered toxic in even the smallest of increments, mercury in our fish hardly qualifies as news. We’ve been warned about that for years now.

But what you may not know is that a recent federal study of mercury contamination found the poison in every single fish tested in nearly 300 streams across the U.S.! This is not good news. It’s the largest study of it’s kind ever undertaken. More than a thousand fish were tested in 291 streams from 1998 to 2005. And the results — and their implications — are staggering.

How did this come to be?

Three words: Coal powered electricity. The mercury released from coal-fired power plants rains down into waterways. According to the study, the majority of the mercury in the waterways tested came from coal powered plants. Granted, some offenders were mining operations and cement plants. But the largest culprit is our lust for dirty energy.

What the study reveals is that this sort of contamination isn’t isolated to areas immediately surrounding power plants, but rather that the problem is widespread. It affects all of us.

There is no easy way to put this. Besides fertile soil, the most important geological asset we have is clean water — and not just to drink. Almost every traditional people group recognized the unique value of seafood in protecting the fertility of their tribe. Even cultures that lived many miles from the sea or waterways would make the difficult journey to the coastal peoples in order to trade for the all-important sea foods. Poison our seafood, and you poison us.

In large amounts, mercury toxicity can damage your nervous system & immune system irreparably leading to mood disorders and nerve damage. In small amounts, mercury contamination can create more mild symptoms like depression, fatigue, insomnia, dulled senses, and memory loss.

What can you do?

First and foremost, we need to attack this at a social/political level. We must not stand for this, and we must demand that these polluters clean up their act. Call your congress people and encourage them to work for legislation that will address these specific concerns. And if you are at all able to purchase clean, renewable energy for your personal use, by all means do so!

Next, you need to protect yourself. Only buy or consume seafood listed on the Food & Water Watch’s Smart Seafood Guide. If you can’t find these sustainably caught, wild fish in your local market, consider checking out the sources on my Resources page.

Finally, consider adding standard detoxification measures into your diet. Eat more superfoods, particularly spirulina. Work raw cilantro and garlic into your meals. Take probiotic supplements. Drink kombucha. Eat plenty of protein from meats, as this acts as a shuttle for mercury and other toxins and helps to eliminate them from the body.

This post is participating in today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival, hosted right here at Food Renegade. For other interesting stories, articles, news items, and recipes concerning Real Food, go check it out!

(photo by davipt)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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13 Responses to All Fish In US Streams Have Mercury Contamination
  1. Musings of a Housewife
    August 20, 2009 | 11:03 pm

    ARGH this is so upsetting. Thank you for shedding light on this. I try to always buy wild fish, but I get so confused by conflicting info. Is that even safe?
    .-= Musings of a Housewife

  2. KristenM
    August 20, 2009 | 11:16 pm

    Musings of a Housewife — Sadly, I think this report shows that ANY fish you consume — wild-caught or farmed — is going to be contaminated with mercury. BUT — and this is a big but — there are some types of fish that have considerably less mercury than others and this has less to do with the wild/farmed distinction than the location of the waterway in which it was harvested. That’s why the Food & Water watch guide can be helpful. It’s taking into account mercury levels in addition to sustainability, etc.

  3. Sassy Stephanie
    August 21, 2009 | 10:01 am

    Man. We moved to the country a little over a year ago b/c my hubs wanted to become more self sufficient. Free roaming chicks, grass fed cows, fruit trees and we are now prepping a 25×40 ft garden. Solar energy, private well.

    I’ll be honest. At first, I thought some of his ideas were a little lulu. Reading things like this make me realize he understands where we are headed much more than I do. Thank you for posting info like this to help me realize it is not just him and his paranoia.

  4. Momma
    August 21, 2009 | 10:59 am

    I read the article in The Houston Chronicle yesterday and thought it would make a great post for you. Glad to see it! One of the things that got me was the quote from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers”. Just WHAT are they going to do? Supposedly a campaign to clean our rivers, lakes and streams has been on-going for years. I know I have read where some rivers, etc. have been cleaned up. But, obviously, a lot of work is still ahead.

    Also, thanks for the link for the Smart Seafood Guide and the precautions we can take. It’s really nice to know that while I love the flavor and aroma of fresh cilantro and I use it almost daily, it does good things! Still need to get back on the kombucha bandwagon!

  5. Vin - NaturalBias
    August 21, 2009 | 1:01 pm

    So sad! Now, with the prospect of nuclear power, we’re trading mercury for uranium.

    I’m in the middle of reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. To add to your example of how important native tribes considered their access to sea life to be, there was one reported instance of a tribe literally massacring an entire modernized village that was blocking their access to the coast.

    I’ve been buying my seafood from Vital Choice and have been quite happy with them. They claim to have measured their seafood to confirm that it’s very low in mercury and PCBs. Dr. Mercola claims to have also confirmed this with his own testing.
    .-= Vin – NaturalBias

  6. Jim Bynum
    August 21, 2009 | 5:23 pm

    Come on people, the three words are not just Coal powered electricity. Try EPA, FDA, and USDA. Their legal limit of 17 kilograms of mercury per hectare receiving toxic sewage sludge just might have something to do with the problem and they created this national policy in 1980. They want you to call it biosolids now. The heavy metals limits can be found at:
    An abstract of the early documents showing that foodborne illness and death was in the future can be found at:

  7. Alana Sheldahl
    August 22, 2009 | 12:23 pm

    This article makes my cry. I’m crying as I write this. Sitting her in Kentucky where Coal is King, where Coal is ruining our landscape via mountaintop removal, our waterways, and where Coal is power.

    So sad and angry. Wind energy, anyone?

    Thanks for the article.
    .-= Alana Sheldahl

  8. KristenM
    August 22, 2009 | 1:13 pm

    Alana — My husband used to quote Walt Whitman whenever one of those moods struck: “The world is too much with me.” Luckily Texas is the nation’s largest producer of wind energy (at least it was the last time I checked), so renewable energy here is reasonably priced. In some cases, it’s even CHEAPER than coal-fired electricity. The city of Austin, for example, actually has to have a lottery to determine who gets the “green” energy plan because it costs less.

    Jim — Definitely true. Two points: 1) How did the mercury come to pollute the sewage sludge if not from coal-fired power plants and other industrial waste, and 2) these very same agencies are responsible for regulating the pollution legally allowed by coal-fired plants, and they aren’t forcing them to clean up their act.

    Vin — Vital Choice is a good supplier. I think even U.S. Wellness Meats uses them, but I may be wrong. What I hate about this news is that even the avid sportsman/hunter-gatherer who goes fishing in the crystal clear creek behind his house is going to be eating fish laced with mercury! It’s such an honest, simple way of coming by fish, and it convinces you that what you’re doing is oh-so-natural and healthy. It’s just infuriating and saddening.

    Momma — Never underestimate the power of kombucha!

    Sassy — I’m so jealous! I’d love to be in your shoes.

  9. Maria Minno
    August 22, 2009 | 9:43 pm

    Thanks for this article, it’s unfortunately very true. There are also radioactive materials downwind of nuclear powerplants causing childhood cancer and other problems.

    I have very bad mercury poisoning, metallic mercury from silver fillings as well as methyl mercury from eating catfish when I worked on a catfish tagging research project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, back before they had done the mercury tests. I also picked up a body burden of DDT from the catfish, I believe.

    Mercury poisoning is a very serious disease, as mercury is the most toxic element that is not radioactive. I have found that the best antidote is a great deal of rest, raw milk, cod liver oil, butter oil, iodine supplement (Iodoral), and a very healthy diet as outlined by the Weston A. Price foundation (

    Regarding Spirulina, well-known herbalist Susun Weed says “I avoid wheat grass juice, green barley powder, spirulina, and all blue green algae. None are as nourishing as nettle infusion, and all are considerably more expensive, more difficult to make yourself at home, and more likely to be sold through multi-level marketing.”

    Nettle infusion has indeed been very helpful to me for providing bio-available minerals.

    Maria Minno
    Nutritional Therapy Practitioner

  10. Walter Jeffries
    August 23, 2009 | 5:49 pm

    On the one hand I have a hard time believing it because they use the term “all” which is just too inclusive yet on the other hand we’ve known for years that all those factories out west of use were sending us pollution and acid rain which is why our soils and lakes are so acidic. Apparently it helps with water clarity. Will anything change? Doubtfully.

  11. Ren
    August 23, 2009 | 11:12 pm

    Is it any wonder that the coal industry is behind the frantic effort to thwart the climate change bill? They are the ones behind the fake grassroots campaigns and forged cap-and-trade letters..

    Salazar et al. will need a LOT of support if we’re to turn this around.
    .-= Ren

  12. Jim Bynum
    August 24, 2009 | 8:27 pm

    KristenM , Every corporation is allowed to dump 33 lb of hazardous into a sewage treatment plant every months. EPA allows a corporate pollutant credit of 57 ppm
    for mercury as long as it is land applied. Part 503.13 allows 17 kilograms of mercury per hectare on agricultural land with no provision to prevent runoff. In 1980, there were 4 and one-half billion kilograms of contaminated sludge produced. Much of that wen on agricultural land. Today, the estimate is about 5 million metric tons of contaminated sludge dumped on agricultural land. Now much of our surface waters are polluted. Power plants are bad, but this is worse because it goes directly into the food chain or is taken off agricultural land by stormwaters, which is perfectly legal under the Clean Water Act.

  13. M. "Mike" Mychajlonka, Ph. D.
    July 13, 2012 | 2:11 pm

    Missing from this discussion is any mention of the levels of mercury encountered. This is important. The higher the level, the greater the harm. Mercury testing at reasonable sensitivities costs money because of the instrumentation used. Consumers of foods need to know the levels of mercury (and other heavy metals) in the brands they actually buy from the store and then decide for themselves. My company is the only one I know of willing to aggregate consumer testing requests so that several consumers share the cost of a given analysis such that the cost per consumer is only five bucks ($5)!

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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