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Testing Labs Score Well Finding Heavy Metals in Seafood

Fish market in Washington, D.C. (A. Kotok)

(A. Kotok)

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Brussels, Belgium released results today of a study that benchmarks the abilities of laboratories around the world to measure heavy metals in fish and seafood. The labs, located mainly in Europe but also in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific countries, took part voluntarily in the study and generally identified the chemical properties of the sample materials sent to them.

The study involved test samples with concentrations of heavy metals: arsenic, inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and methylmercury. The number of labs accurately reporting the chemicals ranged from 80 to 96 percent. Of the metals tested, the labs were most likely to underestimate the presence of arsenic and cadmium.

The study could not provide overall results for inorganic arsenic. The labs reported a wide and inconsistent range of readings for inorganic arsenic, which unlike the other elements, prevented calculation of reference values and overall scores. This problem did not occur in a similar recent exercise testing rice for inorganic arsenic.

Some 59 labs in 29 countries took part in the study, with 45 labs from EU countries and the remainder from other European countries, the U.S., and Asia-Pacific nations. JRC sent out the test samples in May 2010. While participation was voluntary, the labs did not know the levels of heavy metals present, and each was asked to measure and report the values back to the JRC.

Maximum levels of lead, cadmium and total mercury in seafood are regulated by EU law. Excessive intake of heavy metals may lead to a decline in mental, cognitive, and physical health. A particular concern is potential developmental defects in children.

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