Mercury is the most common pollutant in North Carolina’s freshwater fish. Mercury is released when coal is burned to produce electricity, and mercury eventually makes its way into lakes and rivers, where it builds up in fish. The entire state of North Carolina has a fish consumption advisory for mercury, meaning that in every waterbody in the state, at least some of the fish have been polluted with mercury. Avoiding eating larger, predatory fish can reduce the amount of mercury you might be exposed to when eating fish from North Carolina waterbodies.
What is Mercury?
Mercury is a naturally-occurring metal that is found in the soil and rock of the earth’s crust and is released to the environment through volcanic activity or when humans mine for ore and burn coal to produce electricity. People can be exposed to mercury by inhaling it or absorbing it through the skin, but most often people are exposed to it by eating polluted fish. Mercury builds up in fish organs and muscle (the part we eat), so there is no way to trim away parts of the fish that are polluted with mercury.
Why are we concerned?
Our bodies remove mercury very slowly and do not show symptoms of mercury exposure right away. Mercury affects our nervous systems and various other parts of our bodies, impacting both adults and children. Mercury is most dangerous, even at low levels, for children and infants. Women can pass mercury in their bodies on to unborn children.
Possible Health Effects of Mercury in Children and Infants:
- Nervous system and behavioral problems, including learning impairments
- Impaired development of nervous system and brain
- Impacts on brain, spinal cord, kidneys, liver
Possible Health Effects of Mercury in Adults:
- Decreased ability to feel, see, taste
- Impaired movement
- Tingling sensations in fingers/toes, numbing, tunnel or blurred vision