Everything in life was going along swimmingly for IMAX CEO, Rich Gelfond, that is until one day he started to feel ill while exercising. His symptoms soon progressed to the point he could no longer cross the street without someone’s assistance. Six months and a slew of torturous tests later, doctors were still stumped as to the cause, and then thankfully and not a moment too soon his neurologist asked the right question, “Do you eat a lot of fish?”
Feet tingling and barely able to keep his balance, Gelfond answered, “As a matter of fact, I do,” adding he ate sushi at least, “two times a day as part of my healthy lifestyle.” Enter big red fishy flag.
Gelfond’s tests revealed his blood-mercury level at 76 micrograms per liter (mcg/L), 13 times the EPA’s recommended maximum of 5.8 mcg/L. The results were so ridiculously high, the NY State Department of Public Health was required to ask whether he had ever worked at a toxic-waste site for which IMAX did not qualify, leaving the only other culprit his local sushi bar.
“I was just so frustrated that I was trying to do something good for my body and in fact I was poisoning myself,” said Gelfond, leaning forward in his chair and almost falling over, “I had no awareness.”
Luckily Gelfond is on the road to recovery, but he is only likely to get back approximately 75% of the health he had before the poisoning. He is no longer able to run and constant tremors and tingling in his extremities makes it difficult for him to function in general.
“Ninety-five to 100 percent of the methylmercury that we acquire in our bodies comes from the consumption of seafood,” explains Stony Brook University professor Nicholas Fisher, director of the Consortium for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research, which oversees the (newly endowed) Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research and Education. (Seafood, in this case, includes fish from lakes and rivers.) When EPA researchers tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish at 500 U.S. lakes and reservoirs in 2009, they found mercury in each and every one; close to half of the fish had levels so high they were unsafe to eat. Another 2009 study, by the U.S. Geological Survey, found mercury-contaminated fish in each of the 291 streams and rivers tested. Mercury pollution causes U.S. waters to be closed to fishing more often than does any other source of contamination. source.
And so the government has been letting us eat all this toxic fish for all these years – for what reason?