Alaska salmon has very low mercury levels and is safe to eat frequently, state health officials said Friday.
According to a recently completed study by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska salmon's level of methyl mercury averages about 0.027 parts per million.
The federal Food and Drug Administration allows fish containing up to 1 ppm of mercury. The FDA also has warned pregnant women against eating fish more than twice a week, to minimize mercury-associated risks of birth defects.
The Alaska study sampled more than 500 Alaska marine and fresh water fish, including all five species of salmon, as well as halibut, Pacific cod, sablefish, rockfish, lingcod, pollock, and sheefish. Salmon had the lowest mercury concentration, with pink salmon the lowest among the salmon species, at 0.016 ppm.
"The information that we just received from DEC is very good news for Alaska salmon, but it's even more good news for Alaskans who like to eat fish," said state epidemiologist John Middaugh.
Kristin Ryan, the director of DEC's Division of Environmental Health, said the lower mercury levels in Alaska fish probably are because of the cleanliness of the state's environment.
"Mercury is naturally occurring in the environment, but because of certain activities, usually by man, it increases its level in the environment," Ryan said.
The mercury concentrations reported in the Alaska study were lower than concentrations for the same fish reported in a 2000 FDA study. DEC found pollock's mercury concentration to average about 0.045 ppm, as opposed to 0.20 ppm in the FDA study. Halibut came in with 0.217 ppm in the Alaska study, compared with 0.23 ppm in the FDA study. And sablefish registered 0.08 ppm in the Alaska study, but measured 0.22 ppm in the FDA study.
The DEC study is based on 520 samples collected over two years, Ryan said. Study results are available online at http://www.state.ak.us/dec/deh/animal/fm-heavymetals.html.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.