FOCAL POINT: Mercury Falling
The number of species of fish the state considers unsafe to eat because of high levels of mercury more than tripled this year, but doctors also say fish is full of nutrients that are good for our heart and brain.
WRAL’s new Focal Point documentary, “Mercury Falling,” looks at which fish contain unsafe mercury levels, the risk associated with eating them, where the mercury comes from and what’s being done about it. The documentary, hosted by WRAL News anchor and reporter Valonda Calloway, airs Wednesday, August 30 at 7pm.
The North Carolina Division of Public Health issued an advisory in April saying 22 species of salt and fresh water fish contain potentially unsafe levels of mercury. The list includes such popular table fare as tuna, swordfish, grouper, mackerel and catfish.
The state says adults shouldn’t stop eating fish on the list, just limit consumption to once a week, but it says women of childbearing years, pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 15 should avoid eating them completely.
Mercury is a neurotoxin and can damage a developing fetus, which can lead to learning and developmental problems later in life. Pediatricians are concerned that it is being found in so many fish.
While fish naturally contain very low-levels of mercury, the Environmental Protection Agency says mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants is causing higher than normal levels in some fish. The mercury falls to the ground in rain and snow, flows into streams and rivers and settles in the organisms that fish eat. T
he federal government is requiring power plants to cut mercury emissions 21 percent by the year 2010 and 70 percent by 2018. Pediatricians and environmental groups want emissions cut more and cut sooner. Utility companies say they need more time to develop new technology to further reduce mercury emissions.
Meanwhile, commercial fishermen say the state is being overly cautious and exaggerating the danger from mercury in fish, which could hurt their business.
Mercury Falling is the thirteenth episode in the WRAL News series called Focal Point. These in-depth news documentaries focus on a single topic, bringing depth and clarity to complicated issues facing North Carolina. From North Carolina’s economy and environment, to health care and race relations – Focal Point takes viewers inside the lives of the people most affected. Focal Point tackles the tough questions with leaders and policymakers who have the power to effect change. WRAL News anchors, including David Crabtree, Pam Saulsby, Bill Leslie, Gerald Owens and Debra Morgan, host the series. Six to eight new episodes of Focal Point will be produced each year.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Debbie Strange for this capcom story.