Mercury in Fish from the Macal River

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Belmopan, 21st June, 2012 – Belize Press Office

Mercury in Fish from the Macal River

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Department of Environment and the Belize Electric Company (BECOL), has concluded another mercury test on the fish taken from the Macal River in May 2012. The following Public Advisory is being issued to guide the general public on the amount of fish that can be eaten weekly from the Macal River to avoid ill effects due to mercury exposure.

Fish samples collected from the Macal River produced 15 types of fish. After testing, 5 or 33% had elevated mercury level above 0.5 mg/kg the same as results of the last testing in December, 2012. Of those five fish, the species of interest include those with elevated mercury levels and those frequently eaten by communities in the area. These are the Petenia splendida or Bay snook, Ictalurus furcatus or Baca and Rhamdia laticauda better known as botasi or lup.

In the case of Petenia splendia or Bay Snook, the new results indicate that there has been a significant decrease in the mercury level by 0.6 mg/kg or result being just 0.1 mg/kg above the tolerance level. The amount of Bay snook that can now be eaten weekly is 1.44 ounces for persons of 175 lbs. Note that the mercury level for the bay snook although it has decreased remains above the acceptable limits and as such the public is asked to observe the recommendation.

In the case of Baca and Botasi or lup, both contain mercury levels above the tolerance level with concentrations of 0.73 and 1.11 mg/kg respectively. The public is advised not to eat more that 3 ounces of Baca weekly. Since the level of Botasi or Lup is more than two and a quarter times the recommended tolerance level, the public is advised not to eat until further notice.

With excess mercury concentration in the three fish, the Ministry warns the public to observe the recommended eating amounts to avoid long term effects such as: mental retardation in children, poor development of infants, vision impairment, nervousness, weakening of muscles in the hands and feet. Similarly it recommends the following to prevent mercury intoxication and replacement of omega fatty acid that can be lost from the diet:

  1. Eat fish from other locations in the country.
  2. Eat replacement foods such as: canned light tuna, local chicken, seeds such as flaxseed, pumpkin seeds (Pepitos), sesame (Wangla seed), sunflower, cashew nuts, avocados, spinach, and oils from flaxseed, canola, corn, olive or soybean.
  3. Take Omega Acid Supplements.

Note that the above mentioned amounts to be eaten are for an average person weighing 175 lbs and not for person with body weight greater or less. Fish consumption quantities for those other persons can be found using the Weekly Consumption Value per Body Weight Chart which can be obtained from the Ministry of Health.

The general public is warned that the advisory on the amount of fish to be eaten only applies to Bay- snook, Baca and Botasi or Lup caught and eaten from the Macal River. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health would like to assure the public that it remains watchful on this issue and will continue to track its progress and make the necessary advisory as required. Let’s remain safe and healthy and follow the recommended weekly consumption quantities of fish from the Macal River.

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