Heart Disease

Older men with high mercury levels are at risk

Scripps Howard News Service
February 01, 2005

WASHINGTON - Middle-aged men should avoid eating fish high in mercury because it could put them at greater risk for heart attacks and other heart ailments, a Finnish researcher told U.S. scientists and public health advocates Tuesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration currently advise pregnant women and children to avoid fish high in mercury because the contaminant can interfere with brain development in the fetus and young children, leading to a loss of intelligence and learning difficulties.

Neither agency offers any specific advice on eating mercury-contaminated fish to men. However, several studies have found that middle-aged men with higher levels of mercury in their bodies had significantly higher rates of heart attacks and heart disease than men with lower levels.

The accumulating evidence that eating fish high in mercury can increase a man's risk for heart attacks and other heart ailments, while "still inconclusive," is strong enough to warrant urging middle-aged men to avoid eating high-mercury fish, said Jyrki Virtanen with the Research Institute of Public Health at the University of Kuopio in Finland.

"High consumption of fish increases the mercury (level) in the body, especially if the fish are caught from waters known to be high in mercury," Virtanen said. "Larger, older, predatory fish are the worst kind and should be avoided."

Virtanen is the lead author of a study published this month in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, a journal of the American Heart Association. The study found a 50 percent to 70 percent greater risk of heart attacks, heart disease and cardiovascular disease in men ages 42 to 60 who had elevated levels of mercury in their bodies.

The study, which is following the health of 2,682 Finnish men, found that a third of study participants who tested highest for mercury also reported eating an average of twice as much fish as the rest of the men in the study.

The men least likely to experience heart problems were those who had both low levels of mercury and high levels of fatty acids found in fish that are known to reduce the risk of heart disease, Virtanen said.

However, the health benefits of fatty acids, also known as Omega 3s, appeared to be more than offset by the disadvantages of high levels of mercury in the men who tested highest for mercury, Virtanen said.

"In terms of the type of evidence we often use to evaluate health risks from toxics, this is a pretty good basis for concluding a likelihood of a relationship between mercury and cardiovascular disease," said Alan Stern, a toxicologist who was a member of a landmark National Academy of Sciences committee that evaluated the health risks of mercury in 2000.

EPA scientists who attended Virtanen's presentation said the agency is studying the new research.

The fish that tend to be the highest in mercury are large predators at the top of the food chain, such as shark, swordfish, pike, perch and some species of tuna.

Power Plant Pollution Linked to More Than 38,000

Heart Attacks Per Year

Environment Study Shows Direct Health Impacts of

Power Plants on Public Health

Washington, DC, June 9, 2004 Power plant pollution cuts short nearly 24,000 lives, including 2,800 from lung cancer, and causes 38,200 heart attacks each year according to a new study on the environment from Clear the Air. The report, Dirty Air, Dirty Power was released by Clear the Air, a national public education campaign working to improve air quality by reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. The report documents, for the first time, how many heart attacks and lung cancer deaths are caused each year by coal-fired power plants.

The study found that each of those people whose lives were cut short because of power plant pollution lost an average of 14 years, dying earlier than they would have otherwise. Dirty Air, Dirty Power is based on an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own air quality consultants using standard EPA methodology.

"The results are staggering," said Angela Ledford, Director, Clear the Air. "The Bush administration knows how to solve this problem. But instead of simply enforcing the law, they are allowing the polluters to rewrite the rules, weaken current law, and pass it off as progress."

The report compares the premature deaths that would result under the Bush administration's air pollution plan, the existing Clean Air Act, and a proposal sponsored by Senator Jim Jeffords to strengthen the Clean Air Act. The Administration's proposal would allow 4,000 preventable premature deaths each year compared with simply enforcing current law, while repealing the very safeguards that could save those lives.

Clear the Air also launched www.cleartheair.org/dirtypower, a related interactive Web site that enables the public to learn about the health problems caused by power plants in their town, city, and state.

The report's Web site graphically shows how local power plants contribute to death and disease, including premature deaths from lung cancer and other cardiovascular diseases, non-fatal heart attacks, asthma attacks, emergency room visits for respiratory problems, and lost work days. Visitors to the site can also view how the numbers of premature deaths caused by air pollution vary under the Bush administration's plan, current law, and Senator Jeffords' bipartisan proposal to strengthen the Clean Air Act. By 2020, the Jeffords bill would save 100,000 more lives than the Bush administration's bill.

"The new Web site cuts through the spin, shows how state pollution-related numbers stack up against other states, and shows how the Bush administration's dirty air plan will really affect public health," continued Ledford. "The American people have the opportunity to shape federal proposals by letting the Administration know that we need stronger, not weaker, clean air protections."