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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 27, 2004

Sashimi doesn't have to be that poisonous

It wasn't that long ago that no one worried about poisonous emissions from Hawai'i's power plants and oil refineries, because 300 days out of 365, our vaunted trade winds blew them out to sea.

Today we know those toxins are coming back to haunt us. Through a process called bioaccumulation, pollutants such as mercury work their way up the food chain to the fish we most like to eat — the open-ocean predators like 'ahi, ono, opah, aku, mahimahi, nairagi and grouper.

We are all exposing ourselves to this dangerous contaminant every time we eat fish. In fact, Hawai'i's residents are exposed to more food-borne mercury than most Americans because of frequent fish consumption and high levels of mercury in Hawai'i's most popular fish.  

The EPA is warning us to limit the amounts of these fish we eat — especially if we're young children or pregnant or breast-feeding women.

Warnings not to eat fish do not add up to environmental policy.

This week, the EPA announced that mercury-contaminated fish are more prevalent than ever, according to the agency's annual survey of fish advisories.

Despite the new data, the Bush administration continues to advocate an approach to mercury that gives industry more time to reduce emissions, with lower targets than those required by the Clean Air Act, while allowing unacceptable "hot spots" of pollution.

The technology exists to meet Clean Air Act targets of 90 percent mercury emissions by 2008, but the administration wants power companies and other industries to have until 2018 to reduce mercury emissions by just 70 percent.

That's a long time to wait before our seafood will begin to become safe again. In the meantime, warnings to hold down our consumption represent little more than a false response to a serious issue.