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Recent study on blood mercury levels raises concerns

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reminds anglers that they can reduce potential health risks by following the state's current advice on safely consuming fish.

This year's edition of the state's fish consumption guidelines includes guidelines for limiting consumption of specific sizes and species of fish from 1,272 lakes and 93 rivers statewide. The guidelines are designed to help people limit their exposure to safe levels for contaminants like PCBs, perfluorochemicals and mercury.

The guidelines are not intended to discourage the eating of fish taken from Minnesota waters. Fish are highly nutritious, and in pregnant women, it promotes healthy brain and eye development in the fetus.

A 2011 study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and completed by MDH tested for mercury in the blood of 1,465 newborns in the Lake Superior Basin, 139 from Wisconsin and 200 from Michigan. The study found that 8 percent of the newborns had mercury levels higher than those recommended as safe by EPA.

It wasn't possible to directly link the high mercury levels to eating fish. However, mercury levels were highest in Minnesota infants - 10 percent exceeded the EPA guideline. Some studies have reported that Minnesotans are more likely to eat locally caught fish than residents of other states.

Mercury levels were also more likely to be elevated for infants born during the summer - when people are more likely to consume locally caught fish.

MDH is currently seeking a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from EPA to help address issues raised in the 2011 study. The grant would be used to develop better strategies for screening and educating women throughout the Great Lakes region so that they can reduce mercury exposure for themselves and their newborns.

A decision by EPA on the grant proposal is pending.