Scientists Question Mercury Levels in Indian River Lagoon Fish

Researchers gather, test hair samples from central east-coast Florida residents

Indian River redfish

Indian River redfish

At the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, on Florida's central east coast, researchers have been testing for mercury in hair samples from men and women who live near the region's famed Indian River Lagoon — a hot spot for world-class inshore game fishing. Alarming levels of mercury have been found in the lagoon's dolphins in the past, and the economy is driving poorer residents to catch and eat more fish, a report from The Palm Beach Post states.

A known neurotoxin, mercury can cause brain damage in adults and birth defects in babies whose mothers ingest too much. The Post's article states that health officials already advise against eating fish such as sheepshead and red drum more than once or twice a week. However it also says that so far, Harbor Branch's testing has caused concern but not alarm.

Mercury levels among IRL residents tested in the last year were elevated — almost double the levels found in samples taken from residents in Wisconsin and Montreal, Quebec, and 35 percent more than samples from Louisiana Gulf Coast resident, the paper’s website says.

Harbor Branch is concurrently studying other issues effecting the lagoon such as nitrogen and phosphorous runoff that causes algae blooms. Further mercury reports are expected and could lead to advisories.