Mercury in Food

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Food NameMercury
Beer, ale0.0
Beer, bitter0.0
Beer, lager0.0
Beer, draught0.0
Wine, white, dry style (sugars content < 1%)0.0
Wine, white, medium dry style (~ 1% sugars)0.0
Wine, white, medium sweet style (~ 2.5% sugars)0.0
Tea, regular, brewed from leaf or teabags, without milk0.0
Water, tap0.0
Beverage base, chocolate flavour, added minerals calcium & iron & vitamins A, B1, B2, C & D0.5
Beverage, chocolate flavour, from base (Milo), with regular fat milk0.0
Soft drink, energy drink0.0
Juice, orange, added vitamin c0.0
Juice, orange, sweetened, no added vitamin C0.0

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information from the National Institutes of Health

Mercury is an element that is found in air, water and soil. It has several forms. Metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas. It also combines with other elements to form powders or crystals. Mercury is in many products. Metallic mercury is used in thermometers, dental fillings and batteries. Mercury salts may be used in skin creams and ointments. It's also used in many industries.

Mercury in the air settles into water. It can pass through the food chain and build up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. The nervous system is sensitive to all forms of mercury. Exposure to high levels can damage the brain and kidneys. Pregnant women can pass the mercury in their bodies to their babies. It is important to protect your family from mercury exposure.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury poisoning (also known as hydrargyria or mercurialism) is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury (chemical symbol Hg) is a heavy metal occurring in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses. Its zero oxidation state Hg0 exists as vapor or as liquid metal, its mercurous state Hg22+ exists as inorganic salts, and its mercuric state Hg2+ may form either inorganic salts or organomercury compounds; the three groups vary in effects. Toxic effects include damage to the brain, kidney, and lungs. Mercury poisoning can result in several diseases, including acrodynia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell syndrome, and Minamata disease.

Symptoms typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensation and a lack of coordination. The type and degree of symptoms exhibited depend upon the individual toxin, the dose, and the method and duration of exposure.

Causes of mercury poisoning

The consumption of fish is by far the most significant source of ingestion-related mercury exposure in humans and animals, although plants and livestock also contain mercury due to bioaccumulation of mercury from soil, water and atmosphere, and due to biomagnification by ingesting other mercury-containing organisms. Exposure to mercury can occur from breathing contaminated air, from eating foods that have acquired mercury residues during processing, from exposure to mercury vapor in mercury amalgam dental restorations, and from improper use or disposal of mercury and mercury-containing objects, for example, after spills of elemental mercury or improper disposal of fluorescent lamps.

Consumption of whale and dolphin meat, as is the practice in Japan, is a source of high levels of mercury poisoning. Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, has tested whale meat purchased in the whaling town of Taiji and found mercury levels more than 20 times the acceptable Japanese standard.

Human-generated sources, such as coal plants, emit about half of atmospheric mercury, with natural sources such as volcanoes responsible for the remainder. An estimated two-thirds of human-generated mercury comes from stationary combustion, mostly of coal. Other important human-generated sources include gold production, nonferrous metal production, cement production, waste disposal, human crematoria, caustic soda production, pig iron and steel production, mercury production (mostly for batteries), and biomass burning.

Mercury and many of its chemical compounds, especially organomercury compounds, can also be readily absorbed through direct contact with bare, or in some cases (such as dimethylmercury) insufficiently protected, skin. Mercury and its compounds are commonly used in chemical laboratories, hospitals, dental clinics, and facilities involved in the production of items such as fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, and explosives.

How might I be exposed to mercury?

  • Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury.
  • Breathing vapors in air from spills, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.
  • Release of mercury from dental work and medical treatments.
  • Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact during use in the workplace (dental, health services, chemical, and other industries that use mercury).
  • Practicing rituals that include mercury.

How can mercury affect my health?

The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

How does mercury affect children?

Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults. Mercury in the mother's body passes to the fetus and may accumulate there. It can also can pass to a nursing infant through breast milk. However, the benefits of breast feeding may be greater than the possible adverse effects of mercury in breast milk.

Mercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage.

How can families reduce the risk of exposure to mercury?

Carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury, such as thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs. Do not vacuum up spilled mercury, because it will vaporize and increase exposure. If a large amount of mercury has been spilled, contact your health department. Teach children not to play with shiny, silver liquids.

Properly dispose of older medicines that contain mercury. Keep all mercury-containing medicines away from children.

Pregnant women and children should keep away from rooms where liquid mercury has been used.

Learn about wildlife and fish advisories in your area from your public health or natural resources department.

Foods High in Mercury

Mercury content is in mcg per 100 g of food weight.

Food Name

Fish, crumbed, purchased frozen, baked

Tuna, canned in water, added salt, drained

Tuna, canned in brine, drained

Barramundi, aquacultured fillets, steamed or poached

Barramundi, aquacultured, fillets, raw

Smoked fish (including eel & trout), smoked

Salmon, Atlantic, steamed or poached

Silver perch, aquacultured, steamed or poached

Crabmeat, canned in brine, drained

Silver perch, aquacultured, raw

Salmon, Atlantic, fillets, raw

Crabmeat, canned in brine

Trout, rainbow, aquacultured, steamed or poached

Salmon, Pacific king, fillets, flesh only, raw

Trout, rainbow, aquacultured, raw

Mussel, green, steamed or boiled

Prawn, school, flesh only, purchased cooked

Prawn, king (large size), flesh only, purchased cooked

Milkfish, aquacultured, steamed or poached

Breakfast cereal, wheat bran, flakes, sultanas, added vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 & folate, Fe & Zn

Milkfish, aquacultured, raw

Bassa (basa), steamed or poached

Bassa (basa), fillet, raw

Tilapia, steamed or poached

Butter, reduced salt (sodium < 350 mg /100 g)

Butter, no added salt

Butter, salted

Chocolate, milk, with added milk solids

Tilapia, fillet, raw

Food Name

Biscuit, savoury, cheese-flavored

Pizza, ham & pineapple, purchased frozen, baked

Strawberry, purchased frozen

Strawberry, raw

Hamburger, plain (beef pattie, lettuce, tomato, onion, sauce), takeaway shop

Baked beans, canned in tomato sauce, salt reduced

Breakfast cereal, whole wheat, flakes, added dried fruit & nuts, added vitamins B1, B2, B3 & folate, Ca,

Fe & fibre

Baked beans, canned in tomato sauce

Milk, cow, fluid, reduced fat (1.5%), added omega 3 polyunsaturates

Milk, cow, fluid, regular fat (3.5%), added omega 3 polyunsaturates

Soy beverage, regular fat (~3%), unflavored, unfortified

Cheese, cheddar, regular fat

Cheese, cheddar, processed, reduced fat (~8%), added vitamin D

Cheese, cheddar, processed, reduced fat (~16%), added vitamin D

Soy beverage, regular fat (~3%), unflavored, added calcium

Milk, cow, fluid, reduced fat (1.5%), increased Ca, folate & vitamin D

Egg, chicken, whole, omega-3 polyunsaturate enriched, raw

Beverage base, chocolate flavor, added minerals calcium & iron & vitamins A, B1, B2, C & D

Egg, chicken, whole, omega-3 polyunsaturate enriched, boiled

Biscuit, savoury, flavored

Soy beverage, reduced fat (~ 1.5%), coffee flavored, added Ca & vitamins A, B1, B2 & B12

Soy beverage, reduced fat (~ 1.5%), chocolate flavored, added Ca & vitamins A, B1, B2 & B12

Soy beverage, regular fat (~3%), chocolate flavored, added Ca & vitamins A, B1, B2 & B12

Soy beverage, reduced fat (~1% fat), unflavored, added Ca & vitamins A, B1, B2 & B12

Breakfast cereal, beverage, all flavors, added vitamins A, B1, B2, C & folate

Soy beverage, regular fat (~ 3%), unflavored, added Ca, vitamins A, B1, B2 & B12

Breakfast cereal, mixed grain flakes (wheat, oats), added dried fruit, added vitamins B1, B2, B3 & folate

& Fe

Chicken, breast, lean, grilled

Lamb, kidney, simmered

Potato, pale skin, peeled, boiled

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