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Reducing our exposure to mercury isn’t discussed nearly as much as limiting our exposure to BPA or phthalates, probably because mercury has been phased out of most consumer products. But we are exposed to mercury more than you’d think and it can be quite dangerous.
Mercury exposure is linked to a range of serious diseases affecting our central nervous system, hearing, and vision. And it is especially dangerous to babies, who experience an increased risk of developmental issues and learning disabilities when they are exposed to mercury in the womb or through breast milk.
We are most often exposed to mercury…
- By eating large fish that are higher up on the food chain (e.g., tuna, cod, halibut)
- By breaking a fluorescent bulb and inhaling the dust (touching the mercury isn’t as bad)
- In dental amalgams (a.k.a. “silver fillings”)
- Through old paint manufactured prior to 1990 (especially during home remodeling projects)
Eating contaminated fish
Of all the ways we can become exposed to mercury, eating contaminated fish is the most common and the most dangerous.
Industrial factories are the main source of mercury and other toxins that pollute our oceans, lakes, and rivers. When the pollution from these factories comes into contact with water, it converts to methylmercury, which is its most toxic form.
The methylmercury and other manufacturing toxins are consumed by small water organisms and plant life, and these smaller organisms are then consumed by larger fish. These larger fish are then eaten by even larger fish, and so on.
The mercury biologically accumulates as it moves higher and higher up the food chain. As a result, larger fish suffer the highest concentrations of mercury and are the most dangerous to eat.
Reduce mercury exposure
Avoid eating fish that are larger than a frying pan. Say no to shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and most species of tuna. Instead choose smaller species such as sardines, herring, cod, catfish or anchovies. See this list of common fish to avoid & which to eat instead.
Nearly half a silver dental filling is actually elemental mercury. If you get a cavity, make sure your dentist fills it with a composite filling instead of “silver”. Consider replacing any silver fillings you already have.
If you are preparing the baby’s room while pregnant or nursing, let someone else handle the sanding and scraping of any old furniture or window panes that you plan to paint.
Additionally, follow these steps to safely clean mercury dust from a broken fluorescent light bulb. And follow these steps to safely clean liquid mercury from a broken mercury thermometer.