BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 28, 2015–In a press release issued today, Monday, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Environment and the Belize Electric Company (BECOL) have issued advice to the public about the excessive levels of mercury found in fish taken from the Macal River, and about what amounts of the fish can be safely eaten to avoid ill effects due to mercury exposure.
According to the release, twelve types of fish were caught from the Macal River.
“Of those twelve species 50% had levels of mercury above the recommended level of 0.5 mg/kg. Of that 50%, only three (3) or 25% of those fishes are normally consumed by persons living in communities around the Macal River. These fish include the Bay Snook, Baca and Botasi,” stated the release.
The release further detailed, “After testing, the mercury levels were found to be the highest in the Botasi with 1.55 mg/kg and the second highest in the Bay Snook with 1.44 mg/kg or both approximately three times the recommended levels. Baca was also found with elevated level of mercury 0.68 mg/kg or a little over the recommended level of 0.5 mg/kg.”
The Bay Snook is a popular fish eaten in that area of the country near the Macal River, and the release says that, in regards to that fish, “new results indicate that there has been a significant increase in mercury levels to almost three times its previous reading of 0.61mg/kg to 1.44 mg/kg. This increase in mercury in the fish, hence, has reduced the amount eatable to 0.64 ozs. (or a little over half ounce), of Bay snook per week for persons of 175 lbs [or less].”
“Due to the very small amount allowable and the likelihood of low adherence by the public, the Ministry is hereby not recommending the eating of Bay Snook from the Macal River until further notice,” says the release.
Similarly, says the release, due to the high levels of mercury, only 2.9 oz. of the Botasi fish and 2.56 oz. of Baca can be eaten per week.
The Ministry warns the public to heed the recommendations on eating fish from the Macal River to prevent negative health impacts such as “mental retardation in children, poor development of infants, vision impairment, nervousness, weakening of muscles in the hand and feet.”
The Ministry recommends eating fish from other locations in the country, and eating substitute foods like canned light tuna, local chicken, seeds such as flaxseed, pumpkin seeds (pepitos), sesame (wangla seed), sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, avocados, spinach, oils from flaxseed, canola, corn, olives or soybean, as well as taking Omega acid supplements.
The Ministry says that it will continue to update the public as necessary and it will issue notifications of any improvements in the mercury levels of the fish in the Macal River.
For further information, please call the Ministry of Health at 822-2325/2363/2497, urges the release.