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Environ Res. 2004 Nov;96(3):239-49.

Mercury in canned tuna: white versus light and temporal variation.

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  • 1Nelson Biological Laboratory, Division of Life Sciences, Rutgers University, 604 Allison Road, Nelson Hall, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8082, USA. burger@biology.rutgers.edu

Abstract

There are abundant data and advisories for mercury levels in wild fish, but far fewer for commercial fish that compose a large majority of the fish most people eat. Until recently, relatively little attention has been devoted to examining mercury in canned tuna, despite its great importance in human diets. There is substantial media coverage of the benefits and risk from fish consumption, but few peer-reviewed data on canned tuna, the most commonly consumed fish in the United States. In this paper, we examine the levels of total mercury in canned tuna obtained from a New Jersey grocery store from 1998 to 2003, looking for temporal consistency within this data set and particularly for comparison with the Food and Drug Administration's 1991 study. We analyzed 168 cans individually for total mercury. All values are reported as parts per million (= microg/g) on a wet weight basis. In a subset of samples analyzed for total and inorganic mercury, the inorganic mercury was below detection levels; hence at least 89% of the mercury can be considered methylmercury. We found that white-style tuna had significantly more total mercury (mean 0.407 ppm) than light-style tuna (mean 0.118 ppm), presumably reflecting that "white" tuna is albacore, a species relatively larger than the skipjack tuna, which is commonly available as "light" or "chunk light." The maximum mercury in a can was 0.997 ppm, but 25% of white tuna samples exceeded 0.5 ppm. Data suggest a slight increase in levels since 1991, and mercury levels were significantly higher in 2001 than in other years. The mean level of mercury in white tuna (mean 0.407 ppm) was significantly higher than the mean value of 0.17 ppm currently used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its risk assessment and public information. There were no significant differences in mercury levels in tuna packed in oil compared to water. Draining contents had no effect on mercury levels, and the fluid, both oil and water, contained little mercury. These data indicate that people who eat canned tuna frequently can choose light tuna and reduce their mercury intake. Canned mackerel had much lower levels of mercury than tuna. Since cans of white tuna frequently exceed the FDA's original action level of 0.5 ppm, it would be prudent to continue some systematic monitoring of the nation's canned fish supply, particularly as the targets of commercial fisheries inevitably change as certain stocks become depleted.

PMID:
15364590
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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