Something Fishy about Mercury

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

There’s a new study out called Increase in mercury in Pacific yellowfin tuna by Paul E. Drevnick, Carl H. Lamborg, and Martin J. Horgan. It claims that:

By compiling and re-analyzing published reports on yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) caught near Hawaii (USA) over the past half century, the authors found that the concentration of mercury in these fish currently is increasing at a rate of at least 3.8% per year.

That seemed a bit too neat for me, so I took a deeper look. To their credit, they posted the data as used along with the study. As usual, I started by taking a look at all of the data. There were three samples of tuna studied, which were caught in 1971, 1998, and 2008. Here is a boxplot of the raw data.

pacific yellowfin mercury all dataFigure 1. Boxplot of the tuna mercury data by year of collection. Width of the box is proportional to the number of data points. Boxes show where half of the data is located. Heavy black line is the median of the data. Notches are the error intervals on the median. Units are parts per million (ppm)

OK, so far, so good. Next, they removed both the big fish and the small fish. They also removed two outliers, which had mercury values of 1.32 and 0.015 ppm. Once those are removed, the result is shown in Figure 2.

pacific yellowfin mercury reduced dataFigure 2. As in Figure 1, but for the reduced dataset.

Note that because of the greatly reduced numbers in the 2008 data, the uncertainty notch has become much wider, and the width of the box is smaller.

Finally, they adjust the mercury content for the weight of the fish. This is important because as the fish gains weight, it bioaccumulates mercury. Figure 3 shows what happens to the reduced dataset once the mercury content has been adjusted (either upwards or downwards) depending on the weight of the individual fish.

pacific yellowfin mercury reduced adjusted dataFigure 3. As in Figure 2, but with the mercury levels adjusted for the weight of the individual fish.

This has made some obvious changes to the results. First, the outliers have been greatly reduced, as has the range of the data. This is because the outliers were heavy fish with lots of mercury, so when they were adjusted their mercury levels came down. And curiously, while there is not a lot of change in the median and spread of the 1971 and 1998 data, the 2008 data has risen significantly. Finally, while the adjustment process reduced the error of the median in 1971 and 1998 data, it actually increased the error of the median in the 2008 data.

Now, these are the results that they claim show that mercury in these tuna is “increasing at a rate of at least 3.8% per year.” I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing that. For starters, if anything the mercury levels fell during the period where we have good data, from 1971 to 1998. That means that the entirety of the purported increase occurred over 10 years, after being stable for nearly thirty years? I’m not buying that claim at all.

So why did the results in 2008 move up so much due to the adjustment by weight? The problem is in the weight distribution of the fish in the three groups. Figure 4 shows the same three groups, but this time it shows the weights of the fish instead of the mercury levels.

pacific yellowfin weight reduced dataFigure 4. Boxplot of the weights of the fish involved in the tuna study.

As you can see, while the distribution of the weights of the fish caught in 1971 and 1998 are quite similar, the 2008 sample are predominantly small fish. In theory, then, the mercury levels in these fish should be increased to bring them in line with the larger fish.

However, there are a couple of problems with that. First, the mercury/weight relationship gets flat down at the lower end. As the authors say:

It was necessary to remove the fish of less than 22kg from the analysis, because these fish did not adhere to the assumption of linearity. Mercury concentrations in young tuna tend to be low but highly variable [18]. A diet shift occurs in young tuna when a critical body mass is developed that enables endothermic capability to allow access to prey in deeper, colder water [19]. At a certain size (depending on species), likely because of this ontogenetic diet shift, the relationship of mercury concentration versus size conforms to expectations (i.e., a linear relationship).

But here’s the problem with that theory … ugly data. Figure 5 shows the scatterplot of mercury levels versus fish weight.

scatterplot weight vs mercury tunaFigure 5. Scatterplot, fish weight versus raw (unadjusted) mercury levels. Colors indicate the years as in previous figures (red-1971, gold-1998, and blue-2008)

A couple of points stand out here. First, their 22 kg cutoff seems way too low. According to their own data, there is little difference between mercury levels in tuna up to about 40 kg. This means that there will be errors in the adjusted mercury for fish less than 40 kg or so. Second, most of the blue 2008 data is low-weight fish (blue dots) … and as a result, the adjusted mercury levels of the 2008 data will be overestimated. Finally, this preponderance of light weight fish in 2008 is also the reason that the mercury adjustment, rather than reducing the spread of the 2008 data, actually increased the spread of the data.

So to summarize. The 1971 mercury data is statistically indistinguishable from the 1998 data, and the fish have about the same weight distribution. Together, these two groups comprise 94% of the data. They show no change in mercury levels over that twenty-seven year period.

They’ve built their entire claim of an increase in mercury on a mere 14 fish, 6% of the data, which are significantly lighter in weight than the other 94% of the sample. And as Figure 5 shows, it is likely that their adjusted mercury content is overestimated. Fourteen small-fry fish are all they have to hold up their claims? Really? This is almost to the level of the One Yamal Tree farrago.

And in any case, the idea that there would be absolutely no increase in mercury levels for nearly thirty years and then the mercury would jump significantly over the next ten years doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Best to all,


PS-if you disagree with someone, please QUOTE THEIR EXACT WORDS that you disagree with, so that we can all understand the exact nature of your objection.


Folks not familiar with them might be interested in my other posts on mercury, viz:

The EPA’s Mercurial Madness

In the process of writing my piece about Lisa Jackson and the EPA, I got to reading about the EPA passing new mercury regulations. Their regulations are supposed to save the lives of some 11,000 people per year. So I figured I should learn something about mercury. It turned out…

Mercury, the Trickster God

I’ve been puzzling for a while about why the areas with the most power plants aren’t the areas with the worst levels of mercury pollution. Why aren’t the areas downwind from the power plants heavily polluted? I keep running across curious statements like “There was no obvious relationship between large-mouth bass or yellow perch fish…

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February 5, 2015 3:33 pm

Did they use poles carved from magical Yamal trees?

Reply to  Rob Dawg
February 5, 2015 6:04 pm

their results are fishy.

Reply to  Rob Dawg
February 5, 2015 6:22 pm

I see by your Yamal crack that you had the same thought as I did. Hats off to you.

February 5, 2015 3:33 pm

Maybe it is real, though perhaps not statistically significant yet. I would suspect the recent rise in un-scrubbed coal fired power in China as a possible cause.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Tom
February 5, 2015 4:01 pm

It would depend on the Mercury content of the coal, and the processes that scrub it from the atmosphere.
Did anyone notice that Obama has scrubbed funding for the CCS project in Illinois?
Does that increase or decrease mercury emissions??

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo
February 5, 2015 5:21 pm

This reduces mercury emissions because there is a 25% – 40% reduction of energy use requirements to CCS the CO2.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo
February 5, 2015 10:06 pm

… and BP has given biofuels the short shrift as well …

Reply to  Tom
February 6, 2015 7:02 am

Tom, one of three things is true:
1. You didn’t read the article.
2. You didn’t understand the article.
3. You are a troll.
Seriously though, which is it? I would love to know how you went from “Maybe it is real” to a possible reason why so fast?

Reply to  Eric Sincere
February 7, 2015 1:53 am

We have been getting quite a few trolls of late. Some even are of the microsecond variety, rushing to be the first to comment. I wonder what they think they are accomplishing.

Gentle Tramp
February 5, 2015 3:38 pm

Here with this example we see the very reason why the scientific high priests of CAGW are so reluctant to make their raw data sets freely available:
A closer look on it by people without the same confirmation bias could be quite embarrassing for them… 😉

Reply to  Gentle Tramp
February 5, 2015 4:48 pm

Their raw data are available with their article, see their “supplemental files”.
For all the years, the size of the fishes and corresponding mercury content are given.
Basically, as noted, there are only 14 fishes for 2008 and only one fish at 51 kg and one at 70 kg.
So not much available and their r squared values for 1971 and 1999 are way [too] low to indicate any kind of relationship.
So there is really nothing here, but since their raw data are given anyone can do more work if interested.

Gentle Tramp
Reply to  rd50
February 6, 2015 1:01 am

I did not mean the fishy mercury paper above in which the main raw data was obviously given. And it is not a pro-CAGW publication, so it should be clear that I used it only as an example to explain the motive why many CAGC proponents don’t like to share their raw data. They are obviously afraid their conformation bias could be likewise exposed as in this case…

Reply to  Gentle Tramp
February 5, 2015 6:09 pm


Reply to  Gentle Tramp
February 6, 2015 4:32 am

How on earth does this junk science pass peer review? Don’t scientologists learn basic stats any more?
How on earth can they claim an annual rate of increase based on two data points spaced apart by decades, and on what are essentially two different populations?
These scientologists should hang their heads in shame and scamper back to undergraduate statistics classes with their tails between their legs.

Martin Brumby
February 5, 2015 3:39 pm

Yes, Willis. All makes sense.
But no scary stories means you don’t get more of those lovely fat grants so that you can carry on sailing round catching the odd Tuna now and again.

george e. smith
Reply to  Martin Brumby
February 5, 2015 4:14 pm

So I got onto my excel spread sheet and do you know there is no where in Excel where you can draw one of those “box plots” with those funny cheesy grin looking colored blobs in them.
Maybe a candidate for MOMA.
But graphic data from a scientific study ???
And at the current prices for Ahi Tuna, nobody is going to eat enough of it to worry about mercury.
Anyhow, last Monday, I went to my dentist crack of dawn to have by teeth cleaned, to chip all the rocks off them.
Instead my dentist relieved me of all my old Mercury Fulmanate fillings that have stood me in good stead for the last 60 years or so, and he substituted some cheap platic caps for that metal.
So I’m good to go and hit the Ahi big time, and to hell with the mercury intake, for the next 60 years.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2015 5:14 pm

Box plots are available via Excel but you have to manually tweak the graphs to produce them. I can’t tell you how to do this because, per M$ policy, the way you do it is different depending upon which version of Excel you have. Just do a Google on “Box Plots Excel” and pick the result that matches your version of Excel.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2015 6:31 pm

LOLZ! If you really had mercury fulminate fillings all these years, consider yourself lucky that your head did not explode when you bit down on something hard or crunchy!

Don Perry
Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 3:51 am

Mercury/silver almalgam

Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 4:36 am

mercury fulminate fillings- like popping candy, only more bang for your buck!

Reply to  george e. smith
February 7, 2015 10:27 am

Willis is a big fan of the statistical computer language R, I expect you are seeing the results of plots in that language. After Willis advertised a, now past, on-line course in R I signed up and took it. Very flexible to use once you get use to it. Can probably do anything, if you can remember how, or looked it up on the internet. Also has the advantage of being free, running on Windows, Mac and Linux, with a very robust development community.

Bill W
February 5, 2015 3:39 pm

14 fish? They’re basing their analysis on 14 fish?
I think I see more than that at my supermarket in Virginia.
And not to mention the weight difference between the previous set.
Maybe they should focus their study on the lack of fish rather than their mercury content.

Curious George
Reply to  Bill W
February 5, 2015 4:51 pm

Read “Franchise” by Isaac Asimov. A sufficiently mature technology draws far-reaching conclusions from a sample of one voter. (Sufficiently sophisticated technology is indistinguishable from magic.)

David Jay
Reply to  Curious George
February 5, 2015 6:19 pm

That’s nothing. Last year Climate Audit reviewed the Loo[sic] study that reached conclusions based on sample size (n=0)! Josh even did a cartoon…

Reply to  Curious George
February 6, 2015 9:48 am

(Quote normally attributed to Arthur C. Clarke)
Although there was an appropriate episode in the Foundation series, where in the far future a “researcher” draws far reaching conclusions from other peoples’ research, with no need or desire to get his hands dirty with his own.

Reply to  Curious George
February 7, 2015 10:29 am

Saw a paper presented that had a slide based on 1 datum, even had a graph with a line on it. Of course they used 0,0 as the end point for the line.

Reg Nelson
Reply to  Bill W
February 5, 2015 5:37 pm

They should have let Mosh have a crack at it. I reckon he could have modeled a thousand fishes out of that 14 in less time than it took me to type this post.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
February 5, 2015 6:20 pm

Mosh already explained the purpose of modelling was to predict the size of fish in places you didn’t fish. Those fish get bigger every year, while the ones you catch get smaller.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
February 5, 2015 7:52 pm

It’s easy.
build a model.
go catch some hefty tuna.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
February 5, 2015 10:09 pm

All it takes is one fish from the market … and you can smear it all over the place for your data.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
February 6, 2015 6:47 am

Reg I don’t think a model’s gonna cut it. You need a real full sized boat otherwise the tuna will swamp it.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
February 6, 2015 6:56 am

Always remember, the model must come first! You cannot cycle data through the regular [homogeniz -> adjust -> lie -> rinse -> repeat] until you first determine the outcome. Thanks smoosher for your usual humorous posts.

Reply to  Bill W
February 5, 2015 7:57 pm

14 fish? They’re biasing their analysis on 14 fish?

There – I fixed it for you.

Geoff Sherrington
February 5, 2015 3:42 pm

Does mercury ingestion cause weight loss or retarded weight gain in these fish?

James Bull
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
February 6, 2015 1:03 am

You will probably find if you look at the fishing industry catch records that the size of landed fish has been falling over the years and there were very few larger fish for them to look at so they had to compensate for missing data in the size that they really wanted to look at.
James Bull

Reply to  James Bull
February 6, 2015 11:27 am

Last time The Git went tuna fishing we caught one stripy trumpeter between 12 of us. Kinda takes the fun out of tuna fishing when you don’t catch any tuna 🙁

February 5, 2015 3:43 pm

At least they didn’t claim that AGW was responsible for the additional mercury. Or did they tag burning un-mercury-scrubbed Chinese coal as the source of the additional mercury? While I agree completely that the statistical analysis they present is cosmically — or is it comically? — flawed, it isn’t completely implausible that some sort of change in global industrial profile (including power generation) is altering the rate that mercury is going into the environment. 4%/year is pretty crazy talk, though. The rule of 72 suggests a doubling every 18 years at that rate. With your data on a LINEAR scale above, they’d need a pretty humongous bump over a decade…

Reply to  rgbatduke
February 5, 2015 4:55 pm

Sorry, but they did. Read last two sentences of the Abstract:
“…this rate of increase is consistent with a model of anthropogenic forcing on the mercury cycle…..

Reply to  rd50
February 6, 2015 6:54 am

It could be anthropogenic and related to global warming. Has anyone done a plot comparing this (statistically suspect and insignificant) increase in mercury against the worldwide mandated use of mercury containing fluorescent lamps? Since the eco-loons have managed to get tungsten/argon light bulbs banned mercury use has skyrocketed. I’d put any increase in mercury pollution right on the IPCC’s doorstep.

Reply to  rgbatduke
February 5, 2015 5:27 pm

Let’s call it what it is – 4% PER YEAR is INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE. If mercury was poured from the ballast of every ocean going vessel, that might create such an increase… Heh. Especially since I remember reading that mankind’s contribution of mercury was around 3-4 percent… Hey! Maybe THAT’S where they got that number! LOL
“It’s more mercurial than we thought! Oh noes! Can we haz tax?”

February 5, 2015 3:44 pm

Why did they choose so few fish for this analysis? Why did they not look at the number of fish used in the past and try to match that so that the data is more comparable at least?

Reply to  TBraunlich
February 5, 2015 5:01 pm

Because they did not want to go and catch any fish or do any mercury analysis! Too much work.
So they simply took data published in 1971, 1999 and 2008.

Reply to  TBraunlich
February 5, 2015 10:13 pm

They probably did sample the fish from a factory trawler or two … the chances of these flubbers able to catch that many tuna in n time is highly unlikely.

February 5, 2015 3:47 pm

They should have checked with the Japanese…..they would have had hundreds if not thousands of samples

george e. smith
Reply to  Latitude
February 5, 2015 4:16 pm

The Japanese are too preoccupied collecting whale samples for research, to bother with a few tuna fish.

February 5, 2015 3:47 pm

Why were the 2008 fish fewer & smaller?

Reply to  Slywolfe
February 5, 2015 4:16 pm

All the big tuna have died from mercury poisoning 😉

george e. smith
Reply to  Slywolfe
February 5, 2015 4:17 pm

Less of them around.

M Courtney
Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 12:54 am

The sample sizes are the news.

Reply to  Slywolfe
February 6, 2015 5:39 am

Overfishing by factory ships. The “predation” by fishing boats is actually putting enough pressure on tuna (and other fish, like cod) populations to result in younger, smaller fish breeding (at least at higher rates relative to the past). It appears that larger fish are being replaced by smaller ones, perhaps because they are more likely to escape fishing nets.

George A
February 5, 2015 3:55 pm

Who peer reviews these papers? One hopes that if this had been a dissertation, it would have been rejected.

michael hart
February 5, 2015 4:02 pm

14 fish and five loaves of bread. And their calculated “annual rate” is effectively a time-series graph with two data points. Next.

george e. smith
Reply to  michael hart
February 5, 2015 4:18 pm

Only s’posed to be “Two small fishes”. along with the five loaves.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2015 10:15 pm

… give a man a fish and he is fed for one meal, give him a fishing rod and he is fed for life. 😉

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Toronto
Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 6:05 am

Give a hungry man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a hungry man to fish and you have a hungry man who knows how to fish. Development is not as simple as a cutesy phrase.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Toronto
February 6, 2015 6:14 am

Give a hungry man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a hungry man to fish and you have a hungry man who knows how to fish.

Prevent that hungry man from eating any fish when he cannot feed his family, and he will kill all of the fish to feed his family.

February 5, 2015 4:03 pm

No Pacific yellowfin tuna caught between 2008 and 2014 or 15??? Why is the data so old and limited? Why are there not more recent samples? – This is stated as a recent study…

Reply to  J. Philip Peterson
February 5, 2015 8:16 pm

The data are available in every supermarket and mom and pop grocery store in America. I expect it can be found in similar data vaults around the world.

February 5, 2015 4:04 pm

Study would be barred from a court of law on the grounds that it fails to present the best available evidence. If they are only bothering to look at 14 fish, they are interrogating the wrong 14 fish. They only need to collect samples of some of the larger fish that were caught during the later study and they would not have had to make highly questionable adjustments to the mercury levels in smaller fish in order to compare them to the levels found in larger fish decades ago.
In a court of law, if you have the chance to bring in direct evidence for what is claimed, you are not allowed to substitute an estimate for that direct evidence. Are they really saying they couldn’t ask the local fishermen for tissue samples from some larger fish?

george e. smith
Reply to  Alec Rawls
February 5, 2015 4:20 pm

at $30 per pound, no fisherman is going to give them some free samples.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 5:49 am

Would it be possible to get samples from non-marketable tissues?
Regardless, you only need a few milligrams for the study.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 1:03 pm

good grief.
just build the cost of the fish into the grant.
go down to the dock at the same time each year.
the department could have an annual dinner, with tuna, and analyze the left-overs.
just buy from the same boats year after year.

Michael Jankowski
February 5, 2015 4:07 pm

“…It was necessary to remove the fish of less than 22 kg from the analysis, because these fish did not adhere to the assumption of linearity…”
Fish behaving badly!

george e. smith
Reply to  Michael Jankowski
February 5, 2015 4:21 pm

Sounds like the assumption of linearity must be just crap !!

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2015 4:41 pm

Or carp…

george e. smith
Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2015 1:05 pm

Well the vicinity of San Francisco Bay, is not known for people of high mental capacity and skills, and with good reason.
The sundry rivers that drain into the SFBay, instead of being piped to socal desert goof courses, are replete with mercury from the tailing of old gold mining claims. So the bay is full of mercury.
And we have all these mud grubbing Dungeness crabs that scavenge off that mud, so they must be high yield mercury ores themselves.
But the whole Bay area down where I am is all mercury mining areas, and ALL of the local lakes and impoundments have fish that are recommended as not to eat, because of mercury contamination.
Some Asian folks who fish these lakes eat everything they catch, even if it is just a dragon fly or a bait fish. Nothing goes back in the water unless it is in a pot on the stove.
Well I have eaten some of this fish from time to time. Could be three or four servings of fish per year; but mostly we catch and release anyway.
So if you wonder why Silicon Valley is full of dunderheads; well it’s the Mercury, and the Cadmium, and the Selenium, we all eat .
Yes I do know that Methyl Mercury and kin, are not to be toyed with.
I don’t eat canned tuna anyhow, it is cat food, and if my wife buys any of it to bring home, that’s where it ends up, in the cat’s dish.

Billy Liar
February 5, 2015 4:26 pm

All the fish, with the exception of 2 fish caught in 1971 meet the FDA requirement for the consumption of seafood containing methylmercury. The FDA limit is 1ppm maximum allowable concentration.
It’s going to take a while for any Pacific yellowfin tuna to accumulate enough mercury for it to be a problem – especially as the fish appear to be getting smaller.

Reply to  Billy Liar
February 5, 2015 4:37 pm

Tx Billy, I was just wondering about that. The hype over the changes gets even sillier if we’re well within safety limits.

Chip Javert
February 5, 2015 4:40 pm

Let’s se if I have this right: we can’t even figure out if mercury in tuna is actually increasing or decreasing.
Why does anybody pay attention to any government scientist? Opps – oh, wait, they don’t.

February 5, 2015 4:51 pm

Lovely piece of work — well done!

Paul O'Day
February 5, 2015 5:07 pm

Back when the first big mercury scare came up (60’s or so) I worked in the U.S Department of Commerce and knew the top ESSA / NOAA officials. I clearly recall being told one of their creative scientists toodled down Constitution Avenue to the big preserved fish specimen collection then in the Museum of Natural History to test a 19th century swordfish specimen. Result: same mercury level as the contemporary fish.

Reply to  Paul O'Day
February 5, 2015 5:50 pm

I eat fish. And I’m not afraid of Mercury. Anyone heard of the Seychelles study? It’s very well documented and researched regarding fish, mercury levels, and health effects.
And we all know what the consensus view is…

Reply to  SABicyclist
February 5, 2015 6:39 pm

Heath Science and Environmental Science is such nonsense one hardly knows where to start. Things we eat have minimum and maximum toxic doses. Even water is fatal in large quantities.
Too little mercury leads to abnormal nervous system development. Too much mercury leads to abnormal nervous system development.
The problem with health science is that they take a case of acute overdose, and from this they extrapolate that even minute doses are harmful. But it is not supported by anything more than human imagination.
Fear drives the human mind to imagine that something that is dangerous in large amounts must still be dangerous in small amount. Fear does not consider that small amounts of many toxins can give you immunity to large amounts of the same toxin.
Fear does not imagine that something that is dangerous in large quantities may be completely necessary in small quantities.

Reply to  SABicyclist
February 5, 2015 6:47 pm

In fact, it could be the minute amounts of mercury in fish that is responsible for the old wives tale that eating fish makes you smarter. in small amounts the mercury aids in nervous system development.

Reply to  SABicyclist
February 5, 2015 6:51 pm

“As mercury levels in the children went up, so did their performance on tests.”

but of course, the scientists involved cannot see past their preconceptions:
“Certainly no one thinks that the increased performance is due to mercury,” says Davidson.

Reply to  SABicyclist
February 5, 2015 6:56 pm

“Certainly no one thinks that the increased performance is due to mercury,” says Davidson.

Why not? It is because you are preconditioned by fear. You cannot imagine that a harmful substance in large quantities could be beneficial in small quantities. Edward Jenner faced the same problem, but he made the leap of thinking that has saved countless lives. Most science is still ruled by fear and ignorance.

Reply to  SABicyclist
February 5, 2015 10:20 pm

Well, I think part of the Seychelles study and the people who have high fish consumption and high mercury levels, but no health adverse effects have to do with selenium intake from those fish. There are other contra studies where the people ate foods with high mercury, but those foods had little to no selenium, pilot whale, shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish, or the Minamata problem.
That’s another flaw with these studies, they always leave out the important parts, gloss over those details, and throw out these over arching “conclusions.” So you come away with this overarching, “OMG, this is bad, or don’t do that cause it’s bad.”
But leave out details like, “those Seychelles Islanders who eat ocean going fish twice a day are eating the species that have far more selenium than mercury.” And most fish has a lot more selenium than mercury.
It’s like the whole Climate Change thing and the lying by omission part to purposely misdirect society.

Reply to  Paul O'Day
February 5, 2015 5:56 pm

Paul O’Day:
Why am I not surprised?
Since e-mail wasn’t available in the 60’s for communicating with trees, I suppose the gub’mint had to find something else for its employees to do. Why not fiddle around with… ummmm… mercury… ummm… in fish? (I suppose the guy that checked and found no difference is sleeping with the fishes, eh?)
Now… about all that mercury in all those fluorescent lights we now are required to use… shouldn’t we expect an increase in mercury levels in fish as people dump their spent curly-bulbs into the ocean instead of complying with insane cleanup and disposal regulations?
I don’t think one can draw any conclusions from 2008 data in this study (thank you, Willis), but perhaps we should expect an increase in mercury levels in fish just due to fluorescent bulb mandates. ya think?

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 7:23 pm

The State of Washington now charges 25₵ per bulb on each new mercury-containing light sold at retail, so as to fund recycling drop-off sites. There are about 130 sites, one for 53,615 people. You can take only 10 per day. The nearest one to me is 70 miles — I think, but it seems they are hard to find.
My guess is that 99 & 44/100 % of such things get trashed and go to landfills. I, of course, obey the law, being part of the 56/100 %.

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
February 5, 2015 8:17 pm

The State of Washington now charges 25₵ per bulb on each new mercury-containing light sold at retail, so as to fund recycling drop-off sites. There are about 130 sites, one for 53,615 people. You can take only 10 per day. The nearest one to me is 70 miles — I think, but it seems they are hard to find.

Put 5x old Mercury bulbs in a cardboard box, mail to state legislature.

Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 8:36 pm

Excellent suggestion, RACook. I would get a money order for $1.25 and put it in the box, so they have a hard time complaining about it.
But no doubt whoever gets it will just throw the box in the trash.
This is more do-gooderism, and unfortunately, typical. Years ago they forced curly bulbs on us to get rid of incandescents. Now we have to pay them to get rid of the curly bulbs.
Where I live they wanted plastic grocery bags, because apparently the enviro crowd was convinced that paper bags were made from old growth Sequoias. So we used the plastic bags. But now they say plastic bags are destroying the environment, so we have to pay for… guess what? Yes, paper bags. We’ve come full circle in enviro-insanity.
My wife’s relatives have some acerage in the Carolinas, where they grow pulp trees. They are trees grown as a farm product, specifically for making things like paper bags. The only difference between say, corn and pulp trees is that the trees take 3 years to mature, while corn is an annual crop. But to hear the eco-propaganda when they were pushing plastic bags, you would think that paper bags were made from 2,000 year old redwoods.
These people compete to make life more difficult for the average person. But most people are sheep, and go along without a word of complaint. Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in an insane asylum.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 9:11 pm

dbstealey; more likely they’ll treat it as an act of terrorism. Sending mercury through the post to government workers. Don’t leave any finger prints on the package will ya.

Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 9:50 pm

Good point. I would just claim ignorance. In my case, a believable defense.☺

Reply to  Paul O'Day
February 6, 2015 4:42 am

I hope it wasn’t tanned using mercury!

Rud Istvan
February 5, 2015 5:09 pm

Willis, that is a beautiful debunking. In statistical, mathematical, and logical senses. Cudos to a thinking former commercial fisheman.

February 5, 2015 5:47 pm

If mercury in tuna was of concern, I would imagine 1000s of samples would be taken at canneries every year and quantity as percent listed as part of USDA regulation.

Reply to  Paul in Sweden
February 5, 2015 7:31 pm

The FDA doesn’t appear to want to get involved at that level for the following reason:
“FDA noted that 99.9 percent of adults have been exposed to methylmercury below the Acceptable Daily Intake Level (“ADI”), which includes a 10-fold margin of safety. FDA has therefore seen no need to enforce the current action level to reduce exposure to methylmercury.”
However they do have an advisory about fish and shell fish:
And in case you still have a dentist that insists that amalgams are okay, here is an FDA review showing otherwise:

Billy Liar
Reply to  BFL
February 6, 2015 7:45 am

Is your last link a peer reviewed paper or just a list of all known diseases? It reads like the author has suffered from chronic mercury exposure – like he’s as mad as a hatter.

February 5, 2015 5:59 pm

Way to go on spoiling their “more funding needed for another fishing charter” angle they were going for. So much for next years fishing trip. Killjoy.

February 5, 2015 6:20 pm

Has anyone done a study on the ratio of lunatic theories in relation to government funding?

Reply to  old44
February 5, 2015 6:31 pm


Has anyone done a study on the ratio of lunatic theories in relation to government funding?

What’s the point in finding out it’s 1:1?

Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 6:43 pm

Even when it comes to lunatic theories, the government can’t spend money efficiently. Any decent private company could get 2 or 3 lunatic theories for the same money the government spends on 1.

Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 7:15 pm

LOL! Strewth… Ya got me! And just look at the lunatic theories you get on the interwebs for free.

Reply to  H.R.
February 5, 2015 8:55 pm

Not yet, send money money please!! (you can through AW he has my e-mail and I’ll split it, 97% AW 3% me, (LOL and at least we can can claim it is not Big Oil.)

Anna Keppa
February 5, 2015 6:26 pm

I wish I could find the link, but I once read an article describing the excavation of a Neolithic(?) site on the Merrimack river on the US’s NH/VT border where the middens had high Hg concentrations, attributed to the remains of fish the inhabitants caught and ate. Mostly from bone , guts and skin, I assume.
Anyone got any data on mercury concentrations in fish over the last 8,000 years or so? Why the assumption that humans are the source of mercury in fish???

February 5, 2015 6:40 pm

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute.
Maybe mercury’s not a crisis, but what about the plunging weight of the fish in their sample?
Clearly there’s something catastrophic about the fact that they couldn’t find any adult fish to test.
Or did someone just not look…

Reply to  JEM
February 5, 2015 6:46 pm

More likely they didn’t have the funding to look. Yellow Fin Tuna is going for ~$30/pound retail. They probably couldn’t afford anything more than the 14 small fish and couldn’t get any fishermen to donate any fish to the cause.

Reply to  MattS
February 5, 2015 10:23 pm

Wouldn’t they just take a core sample from selected fish, or do they destroy the whole thing?

Reply to  JEM
February 5, 2015 7:43 pm

JEM First thought I had as well. Does that not raise alarm bells?!!

Reply to  JEM
February 6, 2015 5:19 am

CAGW causes skinny fish.
How does one request a global warming grant?
I’m sure the procedure is easier than say…
Oh,…I don’t know…
maybe a request for a real scientific research grant would be harder.

Reply to  JEM
February 6, 2015 5:49 am

Overfishing by factory ships, which have become extremely effective at “strip-mining” fish. See reply to Slywolfe above.

February 5, 2015 6:45 pm

Thanks Willis. Good debunking.
Very nice graphs too.

February 5, 2015 6:47 pm

I love analysis done well. The way Willis sliced and diced the data is very interesting.
Can it be the researchers see no issue with basing the alarming conclusion, “the concentration of mercury in these fish currently is increasing at a rate of at least 3.8% per year” on a sample of 14 fish?
Not only is the 2008 sample size inadequate by itself, it doesn’t match the sample sizes from previous years. Even before the Willis deeper dissection, the study is suspect.
Numbers don’t lie, unless dummies are using numbers.

Reply to  Alx
February 5, 2015 7:09 pm

Numbers don’t lie, unless dummies are using numbers.

Your assumption is that the result is due to incompetence. More likely it is due to selection bias. The publishers likely rejected a large number of competent papers that showed a negative result, but latched onto the one nonsense positive result because it had a marketable message.
The problem is that there is no market for papers that show a negative result, so they don’t get published. Positive papers do because they are more interesting. However, it is the negative papers that are most important scientifically, because they show when theories are incorrect.

February 5, 2015 7:03 pm

The increase in Mercury is obviously associated with the government mandate that we employ mercury containing lightbulbs while banning the safer alternative, incandescent bulbs.
I had to dispose of one of these curly things that failed prematurely at the re cycle center and the attendant there did not know what to do. Ultimately he told me to dispose of it in the trash bin.

February 5, 2015 7:46 pm

Is there even a single case of an individual becoming ill or dying from casual environmental mercury? Seems to me the mercury fall out around a coal fired power plant should have generated several generations of mercury related illness and death.

Reply to  nickreality65
February 5, 2015 8:15 pm

Of course there are – its called Minamata Disease. Its due to the good public health policies over the last 50 years that you have never heard of it.

M Courtney
Reply to  DougT
February 6, 2015 1:55 am

Minamata Disease was an exceptionally large discharge of an organic compound of mercury.
We’re talking here about the metal – which does accumulate in fats but not by the same method or to the same extent.
There is a hypothesis that elemental mercury will be picked up at the bottom of the food chain and concentrated up as each larger predator eats the smaller. Fish (like people) have difficulty in getting rid of mercury.
But has anyone ever seen this? It might be true but there isn’t any evidence that I am aware of.
So, no, I’ve never heard of anyone getting ill from environmental mercury – except in the methylmercury incident you refer to.

February 5, 2015 8:07 pm

I had a set of encyclopedias (Compton’s Encyclopedia, I believe – British from 1887) It listed a Blue Pill which it stated was common in most people’s medicine cabinets. The only thing I could find on line was the Blue Mass pill.
The “Blue pill was recommended as a remedy for such widely varied complaints as tuberculosis, constipation, toothache, parasitic infestations, and the pains of childbirth.”

“Blue pills were produced by substituting milk sugar and rose oil for the glycerol and rose honey. Pills contained one grain (64.8 milligrams) of mercury.” (from Wikipedia)
33% mercury (nearly one-third, measured by weight)
5% licorice
25% Althaea (possibly hollyhock or marshmallow)
3% glycerol
34% rose honey
This pill was common as late as 1887…according to this encyclopedia which I no longer have as the bindings all fell apart…Just FYI…

Reply to  J. Philip Peterson
February 5, 2015 9:44 pm

If this was chemically uncombined or elemental mercury, it is not very toxic in small quantities. Re Medline:
“Elemental mercury is usually harmless if touched or swallowed. It is so thick and slippery that it usually falls off your skin or out of your stomach without being absorbed.”

February 5, 2015 8:33 pm

When I worked for the USGS (I’m now retired), one of the analyses I performed was trace organics in fish. This was a difficult analysis, requiring days of sample preparation to separate the analytes from the fish (primarily from the high lipid content). One of the main problems I had was performing preparation and analysis in such a way that there was no background contamination. One of the compounds I looked for was triclosan. One day, triclosan started showing up in blanks, and I noticed someone had brought some antibacterial hand soap (containing triclosan) into the lab. Well, once, someone had agreed for our lab to grind up some large fish, for another lab, which would perform determination of mercury, and other metals. All I had was a large metal band saw, and a large metal Hobart grinder with a metal blade. If I ground up the fish with this equipment, it would have produced high metal contamination. I believe that ceramic equipment with a ceramic cutting blade is required. I insisted we couldn’t do this, and the customer finally found a better-equipped lab for the project. Just sayin’ that it’s easy to botch things on the analysis end too.

February 5, 2015 8:37 pm

One other comment I have about this post is that I love box plots — makes it very easy to see the way the data is statistically arranged. I wish box plots were used in many other areas, such as stocks and financial data.

masInt branch 4 C3I in is
February 5, 2015 8:38 pm

Great! Excellent!
The Valhalla Standard “Peer-Review” is nothing more than a bias filter.
If the paper, like those in Geophysical Research Letters – ‘AGU’ Journals – Nature and such, pass i.e. fit the bias of the “‘Gods Descending From Valhalla’ in fine Lizt Score” Editors … Then it is a Pass.
VVounderbar ! Sieg Heil ! Welcome be to the new GODS; Mortals commanded to face prostrate to the profound GREATNESS of the new GODS.
It is Treason for a mortal to see, i.e. view a GOD. If transgression transpires then the mortal must DIE on a prior of FLAME and own eternal damnation.
Ha ha.
PS. Is is said that on reading this, “Gore pee-d a bloody piss.”

Joel O’Bryan
February 5, 2015 8:51 pm

There study, with its fatally flawed 2008 fish cohort, would never have been published if they told the truth.

Joel O’Bryan
February 5, 2015 8:52 pm

There Their…

February 5, 2015 9:26 pm

IPCC will benefit enormously from the wisdom of these fine fishermen.
I was going to have fish ‘n’ chips for my evening meal – as I have each Friday for the past 70 years, but not now.
You can fool some of the people some of the time, but ? ? ? ? “

February 5, 2015 9:32 pm

I think we have a genuine miracle here!
These scientists have turned the water to whine, and allowed 14 fish to feed the hysteria of millions of CAGW religious fanatics…
Praise be the demigods of science!

February 5, 2015 9:34 pm

I do believe this is a textbook case of SIMPSON’S PARADOX!

February 5, 2015 9:45 pm

“found that the concentration of mercury in these fish”.
“These fish”. The fish are not the same fish, they are different fishies. If it was the same fish they would have had to throw them back and re-catch them.
Ok, so they are the same species of fish. But they are not the same size fishies, so they have to adjust the data. And there the problem starts.
They would have to have the same weight fishies, and presumably of the same age to allow for different growth and mercury accumulation rates at different times in the life cycle. And then they would have to catch them at the same place, as perhaps the mercury levels at different volcanos and parts of the ocean in Hawaii is different.
And so on, and so on.
I wish scientists would mean what they say when they say ‘these fish’.

Reply to  thingadonta
February 5, 2015 10:35 pm

I have never before come across such a bunch of ill-disciplined fish.
Certainly of no credit to their school.

February 5, 2015 10:16 pm

I understand that the Natural History Museum has found mercury in Tuna many thousands of years old. Mick G From: Watts Up With That? To: Sent: Thursday, 5 February 2015, 23:19 Subject: [New post] Something Fishy about Mercury #yiv7819904904 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7819904904 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7819904904 a.yiv7819904904primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7819904904 a.yiv7819904904primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7819904904 a.yiv7819904904primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7819904904 a.yiv7819904904primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7819904904 | Willis Eschenbach posted: “Guest Post by Willis EschenbachThere’s a new study out called Increase in mercury in Pacific yellowfin tuna by Paul E. Drevnick, Carl H. Lamborg, and Martin J. Horgan. It claims that:By compiling and re-analyzing published reports on yellowfin tuna ” | |

February 5, 2015 10:47 pm

“Each year power plants and other sources create tons of mercury pollution, which makes its way into our homes and bodies in fish.
Some of the major sources of mercury pollution in the US include coal-fired power plants, boilers, steel production, incinerators, and cement plants. Power plants are the largest source, emitting around 33 tons of mercury pollution in the US annually, and contributing to almost half of all mercury emissions. Large boilers and heaters, many of which are powered by coal, are the next largest source of mercury emissions, followed by steel production. Incinerators, once the largest source of mercury in the U.S. have drastically reduced emissions, though they remain the fourth largest source. Overall, mercury emissions have gone down by 65 percent in the US over the past two decades.”

February 5, 2015 10:58 pm

it seems: a) they knew beforehand what answer they wanted to get and b) they were funded by a green blob such as Greenpeace.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 6, 2015 8:32 am

Indeed. A somewhat serendipitous article after watching a Mary Rose documentary last night featuring several examples of this instrument:

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 6, 2015 12:32 pm

Hi Willis, a factor not considered by many is that much more mercury is emitted into the ocean by hydrothermal metal sulphide bearing fractures “black smokers” than what we add. Here is a geological link to native mercury collecting on the ocean floor from volcanic activity near New Zealand.
If you google black smokers, mention of mercury associated with them seems to be filtered out of the results – cadmium, too. They mention copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver. Mercury is next door to Gold in the Periodic Table of the Elements and as a geologist, I’m very much aware that mineral occurrences almost always contain neighboring elements.

Joe Born
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 6, 2015 7:25 am

I had long since bookmarked those posts, which this one has now joined.
I never decided what I thought about the distinctions that commenters at those threads made among the different mercury-bearing substances (elemental mercury, methyl mercury, etc.), but I’m hopeful that those posts will at least serve as good can-openers into the issue if I ever need to get knowledgeable enough to write my congressman about it.
Thank you for your efforts.

February 5, 2015 11:45 pm

Check out the declining size in the samples. I love Tuna fish sandwiches and Tunafish casserole but I stopped eating them 15 years ago as it was clear they were/still are being overfished. Never mine Art Sireze’s ice. I think we have more important problems, like safe food supply

February 6, 2015 1:17 am

“The first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, it is reported, died of ingesting mercury pills that were intended to give him eternal life.[51]
The phrase mad as a hatter is likely a reference to mercury poisoning among milliners (so-called “mad hatter disease”), as mercury-based compounds were once used in the manufacture of felt hats in the 18th and 19th century. (The Mad Hatter character of Alice in Wonderland was, it is presumed, inspired by an eccentric furniture dealer named Theophilus Carter. Carter was not a victim of mad hatter disease although Lewis Carroll would have been familiar with the phenomenon of dementia that occurred among hatters.)”

February 6, 2015 2:15 am

“We have done a study but cant find anything interesting, all is under control but we would like to do a bigger follow up later. Will you contribute?”
Sorry the money wont come!

Tony Jackson
February 6, 2015 3:58 am

Up to age 5 I remember playing daily with mercury that had leaked from a barometer located in the hallway of my grandmother’s home where we were living at the time. Great fun. Where did those 70 years go?

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Tony Jackson
February 6, 2015 5:06 am

How many quarters have been turned shiny by how many kids doing just what you did?

Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 6, 2015 5:49 am

I’m 65 and I remember doing it too.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 6, 2015 6:08 am

We’re all obviously suffering the effects of lifelong mercury poisoning and are just imagining that we remember things so distant in past.
Imagined memories? Maybe we could go to work for MSNBC.

Just an engineer
Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 6, 2015 6:41 am

Used pennies actually.

Reply to  Alan Robertson
February 6, 2015 7:43 am

I remember it as the coolest thing I saw as a kid… pennies floating in a custard dish full of mercury my dad brought home from the lab.

Reply to  Tony Jackson
February 6, 2015 11:06 am

I too remember playing with mercury. My father worked in a lab and we had a bottle in the basement. We would put it in our palm and note that it would puddle in an interesting way as we played with it.

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 6, 2015 1:13 pm

Elemental mercury is a problem when it starts evaporating at 26C and we breath it in. That’s why amalgam fillings are a problem, Our body temp is above 26c so they constantly out gas and this out gassing is accelerated when we drink or eat hot food.

February 6, 2015 5:08 am

They definitely should have compared apples to apples (similar weight fish to similar weight fish). The mercury content depends on the mercury content in the water and on the diet, and the diet changes with size. The higher up the food chain they are, the higher up the food chain their prey often is, and the more mercury is consolidated. They can’t just normalize this by comparing mercury/weight; it’s not a linear relationship.

Reply to  Hmmm
February 6, 2015 5:59 am

In addition to the apples-to-oranges statistical comparison, their results hide the fact that human exposure rates are based upon the actual fish we eat. If the discarded sub-22 kg sample has lower mercury levels then today’s exposure rate is probably lower than 1970 or 1998.

Reply to  opluso
February 6, 2015 7:44 am

Excellent point.

February 6, 2015 5:19 am

The only real case of mercury poisoning from tuna or swordfish was a retired farmer’s wife in Iowa. After her husband died, she sold the farm and retired, eating her favorite food for two years, a half pound swordfish steak almost three times a day. She suffered irreversible brain damage.
[Mercury] in Wisconsin lakes is also a problem as it tends to accumulate, although it does get sequestered into the anaerobic bottom mud. Again, the only problem there was a fishing buff who ate “unlimited” amounts of fish from these lakes.
As a biochemist, we always like to remind people, “THE TOXICITY’S IN THE DOSE.”

Reply to  higley7
February 6, 2015 7:48 am

Did the autopsy include a mercury test?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  higley7
February 6, 2015 7:55 am

I like the old one: “a lethal dose of milk will kill you”

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 6, 2015 1:14 pm

milk – try to at least drink a gallon in an hour – you mioght not die, but might wish you would. it is supposed to be impossible to not throw up if you get close to this achievement.

Reply to  higley7
February 6, 2015 12:47 pm

Swordfish is one of the species that doesn’t have higher quantities of selenium than bio available methylmercury compounds. The people in the Seychelles study, who eat ocean fish twice a day every day of their lives, had no such toxification issues. What they left out was the role of selenium.
They always leave that stuff out…

February 6, 2015 5:24 am

The EPA’s mercury limits are the one major rule (MATS) that has brought down hundreds of coal-fired utility plants. The amount of mercury from all those plants? A few dozen tons, which is a small fraction of the total estimated releases from all sources.
The EPA found a trace element that could not be economically removed, and used it as a sledgehammer to shut down tens of thousands of otherwise cost-competitive megawatts. One promise that the Obama junta actually kept.

Reply to  beng1
February 6, 2015 6:09 am

But he’s working hard to “fundamentally change” America.

Reply to  mikerestin
February 6, 2015 7:47 am

… into Afghanistan, or a technologically equivalent 3rd world Stone Age h*llhole with a ruling elite living off the peasants. That’s the Progressive dream.

Reply to  beng1
February 6, 2015 6:54 am

The history of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards goes back (at least) to 2005, under Bush II. Some of the litigation over mercury emissions started under Bush I. During the years that Republicans controlled Congress, the White House or both, they never revised the Clean Air Act provisions that allow for extremely stringent standards. And if you want to assign blame, don’t forget that the Clean Air Act was signed by Nixon. The EPA itself originated through an Executive Order issued by Nixon.

February 6, 2015 5:28 am

[Is that the fear of angry, spinning, multi-headed Washington bureaucrats who graduated from big government universities with Greek sororities? .mod]

Reply to  Gamecock
February 6, 2015 6:11 am

Then there’s the term “quick silver” which I haven’t heard in years.

Alan Robertson
Reply to  mikerestin
February 6, 2015 6:21 am

Reply to  Gamecock
February 6, 2015 8:24 am

Hydrargyrumphobia is an irrational fear of mercury.
It’s first cousin is plumbumphobia, an irrational fear of lead.
Washington bureaucrats and their partners in the legacy press do not want to know that toxicity is in the dose; it could affect their employment. Tuna has mercury. Chickens have arsenic. It means nothing. 3.8% more of nothing is irrelevant.

Gary Pearse
February 6, 2015 6:56 am

Remarkable work Willis, no pidgeon-hole scientist art thou. I see another scientific discovery in the data that the author’s missed. It would seem that generalized knowledge of the subject was learned by fisherman and they kept only the little ones because of it by 2008 (assumes from the small sample numbers that these are sports fisherman catches. Or, alternatively, because of overfishing, the big ones have largely been overcaught in the past and, on average, fish are smaller.
I tried to recall and to research the UBC geology professor who in the 1960s was the first, I believe to detect mercury in fishe: trout livers in the Columbia River near the Cominco smelter (Now Teck Resources). His first name was “Harry” which is what everyone called him so I’ve not remembered his last name! I believe he pioneered the technique. He dried and ashed the livers and (presumably retorted it so that Hg didn’t disappear with heating). I don’t know how they do it today. Detection of ppm of anything was pretty new at the time and had been developed by Finnish geologists to detect anomalous metal levels in soils, river silt, and even water that might come from a mineral deposit . It was widely used in mineral exploration for the first time around that era. I guess we ate mercury without a thought back then.

Steve Oregon
February 6, 2015 7:29 am

This comment by Tom was likely the precise response the study was intended to produce.
“””””””Tom February 5, 2015 at 3:33 pm
Maybe it is real, though perhaps not statistically significant yet. I would suspect the recent rise in un-scrubbed coal fired power in China as a possible cause.”””””””””””””
After all if imaginary or meddled with science can point to rising mercury Tom and company will have another reason to cling to the belief in the fossil fuel boogeyman.

Data Soong
February 6, 2015 8:03 am

Willis, someone else may have already mentioned what I am about to say, but just in case they haven’t, I figure I should. Most journals have the option of other scientists publishing a formal Comment to an article in the same journal, if their argument is strong enough. If it is published, then the original authors also have the opportunity of publishing a Response to the Comment. I think you make a very good case here, and I would encourage you to see if the journal “Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry” accepts formal Comments. If so, I think you should submit this as a Comment to show the weaknesses of their analyses.

Data Soong
Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 6, 2015 7:26 pm

Willis, you make great points. Your strongest point is “By the time such a comment makes it through the process, the original paper has already made its mark and been accepted as true.” Millions of people will read or hear this propaganda on the news, so I see your point how it is important to address this poor article on this very widely read website. A Comment, if accepted, on the other hand, will probably only be read by 100 scientists, a year after the original paper was published. The “news” will NEVER revisit this.
Thanks for providing your explanations! And thanks for the great science you regularly share here! What I like about your work is that you let it change your mind, if it doesn’t fit with your preconceptions. I wish all scientists were as open-minded as you.

Gary Pearse
February 6, 2015 8:21 am

The concern with mercury is, in reality, somewhere a lot farther up than the amount in the Tuna. I’ve had mercury based fillings in my teeth since about 1950 – they were gradually reduced in recent years, replaced by some plasticky compound that you have to have irradiated with ultraviolet (?). I guess in another decade, I will be reading the horror stories of what that stuff is all about. As a kid, we used to love to play with liquid mercury, coat pennies, roll it around in our hands – I’m sure a few kids swallowed some or licked their fingers after eating their fish and chips. Near Fort St John in northern British Columbia there is an old mercury mine – and there is mercury in virtually every lead-zinc-copper mine in the world. I’m sure a certain amount is good for you. At least at my age I can attest that it isn’t as bad for you as claimed in these small doses.
I remember having a beer with an old uncle of mine in the early 60s when an old friend of my uncle came into the beer parlour (fancy words like that in the old days) with a bag of groceries his wife had sent him out to get. Sticking out the top of his grocery bag was a wrapped smoked Winnipeg goldeye – one of two fish found only in Lake Winnipeg and some clean rivers connected (the other is tulibee – not the common one, the “short-jawed” one). These are superior to salmon when smoked. My uncle said aren’t these supposed to be filled with mercury? And the other old guy said yes, but what you do is hold your lighter under its tail for a few minutes and then quickly cut off its head.

February 6, 2015 8:23 am

Willis, about your 2012 post on the subject (EPA’s Mercurial Madness:”
Yes, EPA says that the mercury rule would save something like 10 K lives per year. But look a little closer.
None of those alleged lost lives are due to mercury exposure (put a different way, none of the lives allegedly saved are saved due to less mercury).
The “lives saved” are all due to “co-benefits.” EPA means by use of this term that the emissions controls that reduce mercury also reduce emissions of tiny particulate or their precursors. In this case, the emissions controls mean that there are less tiny sulfate particles in the air. EPA takes the position that any amount of tiny particles of any type will kill, and that each “statistically lost life” is valued at about $10.5 million, and that it doesn’t matter if the “statistical person” whose life is lost was a week away from mortality or a year or two (it is thought that “susceptible” people are most likely to be impacted by particles).
You will see by checking the tables in the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) that about 99% of the monetized value of the mercury regulation comes from these “co-benefits.” These “co-benefits” total almost all of the monetized benefits calculated for the regulation in the RIA.
The only monetized benefits from reducing mercury itself are about $6 Million (about 1% of total benefits). Why are they so tiny? Because the only harm that EPA could find, and it is tiny, that would have a chance of being scientifically defended, had to do with reduction of mercury intake by pregnant women eating fresh caught fish in the US.
The benefit was to the IQ of the fetus: to the IQ of the child after it has been borne and raised. The total IQ loss across the entire US, from the 90% reduction in US mercury emissions from US power plants, was calculated to be 511 IQ points, spread across 240,000 children born each year. That is 2/1000 of an IQ point per child, The monetary value is calculated by the reduction in lifetime income from a total of fewer 512 IQ points in the population.
So note what has happened. EPA put out a mercury regulation, says it will save 11,000 or so people every year, leaving the implication that mercury is very deadly. None of the reporters say anything about the fact that none of the estimated deaths have to do with mercury, that the benefits of reducing mercury 90% are vanishingly small, or that the cost/benefit calculation for mercury itself is a cost of over $10 B for a $6 M benefit — in other words, costs are over 1000 times higher than mercury reduction benefits. Why do environmental reporters not to tell their readers that if you could wave a magic wand and reduce 90% of mercury emissions just like that, there would be virtually no benefits?
You might enjoy looking at the RIA (2011, I think), if you haven’t already. See last line in Table 4-7 for the total benefit of 511 IQ points from the mercury rule, 2/1000 of an IQ point per child:
Co-benefits of up to $90 B are found in Table 5-1. Table ES-1 compares total costs and total calculated benefits.
We all know that mercury at very high doses is a poison: think of Minimata disease and Mad Hatters (who handled mercury daily for years on end). The question is whether mercury is poisonous at vanishingly small levels. The dose still makes the poison. Selenium is toxic in the environment at very high doses, yet it is also in multi-vitamins in tiny amounts, with legitimate purpose. Mercury, unlike selenium, doesn’t have any health benefits, but for both of them, tiny amounts appear unharmful or virtually so, based in mercury’s case on EPA published work (the RIA).

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
February 7, 2015 8:02 am

Willis, you just read it. If I added more, it would just be expansion on the basic facts, which are above.

Reply to  John
February 8, 2015 6:43 am

Thanks John — good info. The convolutions of logic needed to justify this nonsense are as bad as I imagined. Extrapolate these logic-gymnastics to a whole range of “pollutants” and you begin to sense the enormous scam being perpetrated.

February 6, 2015 9:04 am

There may be more problems with the study’s basic assumptions if yellowfins are anything like blue fins. A juvenile bluefin was found to have gone down more than a km, much deeper than the depth of max methyl mercury:

Reply to  agfosterjr
February 6, 2015 9:37 am

It could be that larger tuna move higher up on the Hg concentrating food chain by eating fish that smaller tuna can’t eat.

Ed Zuiderwijk
February 6, 2015 9:12 am

And the confounding factor is …: weight.

February 6, 2015 9:44 am

Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink all your beer.

February 6, 2015 9:46 am

Thanks Willis. You have definitely uncovered something fishy about mercury.
Something else that smells fishy – the health advisories for canned tuna.
Methyl-mercury is known to lower IQ and shorten life-expectancy. However, the smallest (low mercury) fish are reserved for canning.
More, 81% of the world’s large, high mercury (‘fresh-caught’) tuna is consumed by the Japanese – and they enjoy the world’s highest IQ and life-expectancy.

February 6, 2015 10:30 am

Reblogged this on Daily Browse and commented:
It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. Start with the same numbers and come up with different results. No malice is required to reach a faulty conclusion, just poor analysis.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  TonyR
February 6, 2015 12:02 pm

Tony, if the original work is a pile of crap, yes, doing their work over for them, using the same data will give you different conclusions by definition. If you weren’t convinced from this analysis that there was at least something wrong, even if it was simply that there were only 11 fish, all small fry, out of ~250 fish and these 11 taken all in one year gave the trend that otherwise wasn’t there, then you are indeed a successful product of the education system designed by post normal progressives to obviate the need for questioning. You were undoubtedly top of your class. Is the ‘Daily Browse’ also a purveyor of ‘New Think’? Your IQ and mental health can be ruined by more things than just a bit of mercury in your tuna sandwich.

February 6, 2015 12:05 pm

The poisoning of Minamata Japan
It started out quite simply, with the strangeness of cats “dancing” in the street–and sometimes collapsing and dying.

John D
February 6, 2015 1:38 pm

Maybe the fish they caught spent the night with Venus. “One night with Venus, a lifetime with mercury.”

February 6, 2015 4:56 pm

I live in the Baja Mex. I sometimes eat fish (mostly sea bass) twice a day. Most are from the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). Wonder how much mercury I am ingesting…

Old England
February 6, 2015 5:17 pm

I’d be too embarassed to publish the ‘results’ of any study relying on just 14 fish out of millions – it would be a meaningless waste of my time and of the time of anybody and everybody who read it.
I look after some rare breed chickens for one of my sons – one group of 5 (all Silkies) will go into their house when I tell them – the other breeds won’t. Following the basis used in a number of ‘climate change’ studies perhaps I should now publish a ‘learned’ paper proving that Silkies are 97% more intelligent and obedient than other breeds of chicken…………

Howard Gray
February 7, 2015 6:03 pm

I recall a paper from the 70s where samples were taken from two record size lobsters hanging on the wall at the Boston Science Museum. The lobsters were caught in the 1800s and were significant for their size. The paper documented the specimens contained mercury levels consistent with large lobsters caught in modern times. The result was unexpected. I’ve had no luck finding this paper and I admit my memory is fading. I’m hoping a WUWT reader also recalls the paper. BTW the museum also had a good library and perhaps one of the older folks there could find the paper. I no longer live nearby.

February 8, 2015 12:13 pm

Guy goes to the beach to goes swimming, parks his car. While he was gone a tidal wave hit his car. When he came back, he found tuna in his Mercury…

February 10, 2015 6:09 am

Sad that the 2008 fish were smaller than in previous years.
All juveniles or have larger fish been removed from the population ?
All right , there were only 14 of them but…..

barn E. Rubble
February 11, 2015 2:45 pm

Willis Eschenbach February 5, 2015 at 11:36 pm
RE: “My thanks to everyone for your comments.”
I was hoping that there’d be some science based comments/current data RE: don’t worry, eat ’em up.
I love the stuff, and (unfortunately) moderation has never been a major factor in my decisions . . . sigh.

February 15, 2015 7:20 am

I’m sure Willis is correct that there is something wrong (or missing) in the current data. But assuming the original study has some validity it appears that almost all the new accumulations of Mercury have occured between 1998 and 2008. What changed during that period? I would suggest it had something to do with the vast proliferation of florescent light bulbs that the environmentalists have forced us to buy.

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