‘Waiter, there’s mercury in my sushi’

High levels of mercury found in the tuna of some New York City sushi restaurants may be part of a nationwide problem, according to a Jan. 23 article in the New York Times. Tuna sushi from 5 of 20 restaurants tested showed mercury levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards—more than 1 parts per million—and could legally be removed from the market by the Food and Drug Administration. Eating only six pieces of tuna sushi a week would exceed levels considered permissible by the EPA, the investigation found.

Mercury enters the environment as an industrial pollutant, and when eaten regularly, can accumulate in the bloodstream. Fish, as opposed to meat or vegetables, is the primary way mercury is introduced to the food chain. Studies suggest mercury may cause heart and neurological problems in humans. In 2004, the FDA and EPA released an advisory for children and for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or of child-bearing age to limit their consumption of certain types of tuna, but fresh tuna was not included in their report.

Most of the tuna sampled in New York was said to be bluefin. Mercury levels found in ahi, yellowfin and albacore tuna are considered to be high—more than 0.3 parts per million—but lower than bluefin varieties. Low-to-no mercury sushi options include crab, haddock, hake, salmon, shrimp and scallops.