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Out of My Head

Are we willing to accept fish, oceans laced with mercury?

September 6th, 2011 3:57 pm by Jan Hearne

Besides Andy Schleck, one of my favorite things about the Tour de France is the scenic commentary. There are long stretches of the tour where nothing really happens — just cute boys riding bikes against breathtaking scenery — so you get all kinds of fun facts about chateaux, lakes, streams, churches, villages and cobblestones.
This year we got this breezy news: “The French oyster beds are dying,” la, de, da. One British commentator remarked: “The oysters are dying because of rising ocean temperatures.” To which the other British commentator quipped, “Well I guess they need to put some ice cubes in the water.”
Uh, huh. If only it were that easy.
Hearing that exchange, it struck me that glibness seems to be the underlying attitude toward many of our environmental problems. It’s another one of those “somebody needs to do something” situations in which neither “somebody” nor “something” is defined. Well, yes, it’s a terrible thing, but . . .
Read any article on healthy diets and you will be advised to eat two to three servings of fish a week. More frequently these days I see articles advising me to eat more fish, while cautioning me about mercury poisoning. For example, choose canned light tuna over albacore because albacore is high in mercury. (Seems like yesterday we were advised to choose albacore because the fishing method was more mindful of dolphins’ welfare.)
Mercury, if you don’t know, puts unborn children at risk for mental retardation, learning disabilities and impaired hearing. Adults just get depressed, confused, cramped muscles and blurry vision if they eat too much mercury-laden fish, and apparently most fish and shellfish contain mercury.
The Food and Drug Administration advises “women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.” They provide a run down at
So the French oyster beds are dying, and we must be careful to eat fish and shellfish low in mercury. Oh, and National Geographic advises us to forgo fish altogether because the oceans are tapped out.
And this is acceptable to us?
If I were allowed to curse in this column, here is the place I would insert a string of expletives, ending with some sort of harsh version of “please wake up.”
Perhaps I would get someone’s attention, but most likely I would be inundated with emails deploring my choice of words. The idea of someone using profanity would be more upsetting than the idea that our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams are becoming so fouled by human activity they have become poisonous.
Now that’s what I call obscene.

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