IS FISH SAFE TO EAT?
Renowned Public Health Physician to Speak on Fish, Contaminants and Human Health
Are you risking your health by eating fish? The controversy over whether high levels of chemical contaminants in seafood outweigh the benefits of a fish diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is complex, and for the general public, very confusing. A fish diet is said to be rich in protein, low in fat, and beneficial for cardiovascular health and early cognitive development. On the other hand, researchers are finding that high levels of toxic chemicals in fish may actually put people at risk from eating contaminated fish too frequently.
David O. Carpenter M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany, is the featured speaker at the 2012 Ocean Environment Lecture Series: Rachel Carson Lectures, hosted by the Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI) on Thursday, February 16 in Blue Hill. Carpenter will discuss current research on environmental contaminants in seafood and the consequences for human health and wellness. Carpenter’s lecture, Is Fish Safe to Eat?, begins at 7 p.m., preceded by a reception at 6 p.m. All lectures are free and open to the public.
Carpenter has published extensively on levels of persistent organic chemicals (POPs) in farmed and wild Atlantic salmon and discussed the issue at MERI’s lecture series in 2006. According to Carpenter, an area of concern today is emerging contaminants like PBDEs and other persistent flame retardants. His research measures not only their presence in fish, but also how much is accumulating in the bodies of people who eat contaminated fish. “How do you know when you go to the supermarket what fish is safe to eat?” asks Carpenter. “People know the benefits but don’t know the risks.”
Carpenter has been studying the relationship between contaminants and human health for more than 20 years and is currently researching whether or not fish in the Great Lakes are safe to eat. What is of increasing concern in his research is evidence that there may be a closer relationship between toxic chemicals and chronic disease. According to Carpenter, fish contaminated with methyl mercury, PCBs, dioxins and chlorinated pesticides are major pathways of exposure that contribute to diseases not normally considered to be a result of environmental exposure, including high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s. “What we want to do in public health,” says Carpenter, “is to prevent disease. And the only way to prevent disease is to reduce the exposure.”
A long-time member of MERI’s Scientific Advisory Board, Carpenter has authored more than 300 publications and has edited five books. He is a recent co-recipient of a grant to assess exposure of endocrine disrupting chemicals – PBDEs and PFCs – on two Arctic Yupik villages of St. Lawrence Island in Alaska. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also designated his institute as a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Environmental Health.
MERI’s 2012 lectures celebrate the life of Rachel Carson, marine biologist, author and conservationist whose 1962 book Silent Spring galvanized public response to the dangers of pesticides and launched the global environmental movement. The 2012 Rachel Carson Lectures are sponsored in partnership with Cornerstones of Science, the national science literacy initiative based in Brunswick, Maine.