I can't find any information about the history of mercury in fish as a public health concern. When was it first recognized that fish contain higher levels of mercury than land animals? How long have we had the technology to measure the amount of mercury in fish?

(moved from chemistry.stackexchange.com)

  • $\begingroup$ I find this an interesting question: while it has been known for many years that some fish had dangerous levels of Hg, I think the general public became more aware when a couple of actors J. Piven and Daphne Zuniga actually became symptomatic due to fish consumption. This was in the past 20 years and prior to that I think most people's concern was mild -- the sentiment was, "One will die anyway..." of course, mercury poisoning is an exceptionally bad and protracted way to die and it may only affect quality of life severely without killing a person. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Jan 6 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ Prior to the actors there were cases of industrial malpractice in Japan and the awful case of seed that had been deliberately treated with mercury as a fungicide being used instead of for planting to make bread. But while this increased perhaps awareness of Hg as a toxin, people perhaps continued to view levels in fish as a minor concern -- one just needed to avoid acute exposure. Note that dentists to this day use Hg in fillings although they call them "amalgams" or "silver" fillings and argue that mercury is somehow safe when combined with silver and mislead using table salt as an analogy. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Jan 6 at 2:50

1 Answer 1


must... not... write .... L****Y....

From ScienceDirect,

Investigations into the presence of mercury in food have been carried out in a comparatively small number of foods in the UK since 1966.
There's considerably more info, several articles, at that page.

From TheOldGreyLady ,possibly paywalled,

Rise in Mercury Is Found In Eaters of Certain Fish By DAVID BIRDJAN. January 14, 1971, Page 74 The New York Times Archives The chemist whose findings last month led to the recall of mercury‐tainted tuna and swordfish reported yesterday that he had found as much as five times the mercury in per sons who ate those fish regu larly compared with those who did not. [...]His discovery was believed to be the first time that high levels of mercury had been found in ocean fish. Before that time, only fresh‐water fish in bodies of water polluted mainly by industrial waste had been, declared unfit for consumption.

and medscape wanders over to Japan, which had a terrible industrial pollution problem,

In 1961, researchers in Japan correlated elevated urinary mercury levels with the features of the previously mysterious Minamata disease. Before the etiology of Minamata disease was discovered, it plagued the residents around Minamata Bay in Japan with tremors, sensory loss, ataxia, and visual field constriction. (See Presentation.) 3

Minamata disease is an example of organic toxicity. In Minamata Bay, a factory discharged inorganic mercury into the water. The mercury was methylated by bacteria and subsequently ingested by fish.

Finally, from a WHO pamphlet, suggesting a start-date for a reasonably reliable test methodology,

The methods summarized in Table I have been selected from a large number of publications. They are typical of the various methods available for analysis of total mercury and its inorganic or organic species. All represent a considerable improvement on the original "dithizone" method. This method was widely used up to the introduction of atomic absorption in the late 1960s. Basically it involved the formation of a coloured complex with dithizone after all the mercury in the sample had been converted to Hg++ compounds by oxidation in strong acids.

A Paper from 1953 describes that "dithizone" methodology.

  • $\begingroup$ Must...not...ask... "is it LUCKY?" No. No it's not. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    May 17, 2018 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Wow! You found a lot of stuff that I didn't find. The dithizone methodology is interesting. I'm still a bit curious. Who carried out the investigations in 1966? In December 1970? Who was the first scientist to say "Hey, fish has a lot of mercury in it"? Also confused by the "L****Y" riddle. ... Anyway, thanks for what you put together. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2018 at 3:10

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