Project aims to reduce mercury levels in women; Move doesn’t want to sacrifice fish benefits

Published 8:11 am Monday, May 15, 2017

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Health is working with health clinics to reduce the level of mercury in women of child-bearing age without sacrificing the benefits of eating fish.

The department worked with health clinics in Cook County and on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation to sample the blood of nearly 500 women for mercury and healthy fatty acids in the project, called Fish are Important to Superior Health, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Medical professionals talked to them about what types of fish they could safely eat and how often.

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A 2011 study by the department showed that 10 percent of newborns tested along the North Shore of Lake Superior had concerning levels of mercury in their blood. Too much of the chemical element can cause lasting learning problems.

Officials said they were encouraged by the results when the women returned six months later after eating a healthy amount of fish.

“We found that women did not stop eating fish,” said Pat McCann, a research scientist who led the project for the department. “That was good.”

McCann said research has shown that when women receive information about mercury in fish, they often stop eating it because they find it too complicated to decide what kinds of fish or how much they can safely eat. Some also feel it’s too scary to risk being exposed to mercury.

McCann said the information given to the North Shore participants seemed to alleviate those fears.

“Their fatty acid levels didn’t change, so that indicates they’re still getting the beneficial aspects of eating fish,” she said. “But their mercury levels were lower at the follow-up visit.”

Many women surveyed reported in their follow-up visits that they actually ate more fish, but switched to eating more species low in mercury, such as Lake Superior herring or whitefish.

The department also has teamed up with Health Partners to launch a statewide campaign to continue educating women about eating fish.

“We want women and children to eat fish,” McCann said. “The benefits outweigh risks if they choose fish low in mercury and other contaminants.”

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News,