President Obama recently announced a plan that will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but reduce mercury levels in fish by decreasing the amount of methylmercury that ends up in our oceans.
The Clean Power Plan, which will be implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plans to cut U.S. emissions by one third in the next 15 years—and each state must come up with individual plans to meet these goals.
According to Marion Nestle of Food Politics, the EPA’s plan will reduce mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants, which is the largest human-induced source of methylmercury. It accounts for 40 percent of the mercury that ends up in our oceans, where it’s then converted to toxic methylmercury. Methylmercury makes its way up the food chain as the larger fish eat the smaller fish, and is why large marine creatures like sharks are so high in the contaminant.
Predatory fish are so contaminated with mercury that we’re told to eat them in moderation and pregnant women are told to avoid them completely. This is because methylmercury is poisonous, especially for fetuses, babies, and children. If pregnant women eat too much mercury, it can negatively impact the baby's brain and nervous system development.
“We can teach pregnant women to recognize which fish are high in methylmercury and hope this works well enough so they will avoid buying such fish (personal responsibility) or we could–as a society–require coal-burning power plants to scrub their emissions so mercury doesn’t get into ocean or lake waters in the first place (public health).”
The Clean Power Plan will finally put the onus on states to reduce emissions, and will in turn help combat mercury levels in fish.
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Fish market image via Shuttershock