Harvard study checks for mercury in La. anglers

Calm days are best, but even when the winds blow, there are spots to catch fish in the Grand Isle surf.

My wife has always said I have brain damage.

Now she may have actual physical evidence.

Last summer, Harvard University researcher David Senn was preparing a study of mercury levels in Louisiana anglers before the two wicked witches roared ashore in the late summer and early fall.He’d eventually have to put the study on hold, but before he did, I was able to participate by completing an on-line survey and sending a clip of my hair up to Boston for analysis.

Senn and his staff discovered that I do, in fact, have mercury floating around in my body. It likely got there, not surprisingly, through my consumption of fish.

That’s a bit troubling because mercury has some pretty serious impacts on the human body.

“In adults, scientists are concerned that exposure to mercury at low levels over long periods of time may increase the risk of heart disease and problems with brain function,” Senn’s study states.

Mercury poisoning is of particular concern to anglers because the heavy metal doesn’t easily pass through the body.

“Once consumed, mercury from fish leaves the body very slowly,” the study states. “Therefore, mercury can accumulate to levels that may pose health risks if a person eats a lot of fish, or if the fish consumed contains medium or high levels of mercury.”

If there’s any good news, it’s that Senn and his team found my mercury level to be .78 parts per million. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that any level under 1 ppm is considered safe.

That makes me feel a little better, and I’ll certainly continue to eat fish. It is, without question, my favorite meat to eat, and it is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein and other essential nutrients.

But I’ll take care to limit my consumption of tuna and wahoo, which, along with king mackerel and swordfish, tend to have higher concentrations of mercury.

Do you have mercury floating around in your body? If you’re an angler who likes to cook what you catch, you probably do. But you can find out for sure by participating in Senn’s study, which was delayed but not destroyed by Katrina and Rita.

You will need to go to www.hsph.harvard.edu/water, and fill out an on-line questionnaire.  After that, Senn will rush to you a packet that explains how to harvest the hair sample and includes a prepaid envelope for sending the sample back to him.

“They’ll get the results back within three months,” he said. “Included with the results is a letter explaining the effects of mercury and how to minimize exposure to it.”

Earlier this summer, Senn and his team of researchers were at weigh-in stations during the Houma Oilman’s Rodeo and the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, where they harvested hair samples from study volunteers.

The study is being conducted in conjunction with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON).

Todd Masson
About Todd Masson 446 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply