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Think before you dig into that yummy but deadly fish delicacy.

FISH lovers beware. The next time you tuck into that tempting curry, spare a thought to the damage it can cause to your brain.

A study conducted in West Bengal by NGOs, Toxics Link and DISHA, found that the level of methylmercury ( the more poisonous form of the substance) in fish from the state is way higher than permissible levels.

The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act pegs the tolerable level of methylmercury concentrates in fish at .25 parts per million.

Of the 264 samples collected from the state, 129 tested for methylmercury exceeded the normal limited by 50- 200 per cent.

For Delhi's fish lovers this is bad news. One of the four tonnes of fish the city consumes daily comes from Bengal. The rest comes from Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

High levels of methylmercury ingested through food can lead to long- term damage to the nervous system and children's brain is particularly susceptible to deleterious effects.

The study points to the possibility of similar high levels of methylmercury being present in fish from the other states also -- all of which are heavily industrialised.

" We are sure that the level of mercury present in fish from these states will be higher than the norm," said Santanu Chacraverti, secretary of DISHA, who co- authored the study with Abhay Kumar, formerly with Toxics Link.

A Centre for Science and Environment conference on mercury pollution recently showed that the country has reached alarming levels of mercury contamination because of the discharge of mercury- bearing industrial effluents.

A significant percentage of the fish, including some of the popular varieties such as rohu, katla, aar, sole and bekti , which the researchers collected from freshwater bodies, rivers adjoining industrial areas, estuaries and the sea in Bengal, exceeded the limit.

On the health impact of methylmercury, Chacraverti said: " It can affect the nervous system because it crosses the placental and blood- brain barriers easily.

The effect can be severe among infants and children, whose brain is still developing." Though the extent of the impact is difficult to measure clinically, Chacraverti believes its effects on the brain are gradual and eventually lead to a decline in the intelligence level of those who've consumed contaminated fish.

Methylmercury can also trigger depression and suicidal tendencies, paralysis, kidney failure, Alzheimer's disease, speech and vision impairment, allergies and impotence. Minuscule increases in methylmercury exposure can affect the cardiovascular system adversely, according to the United Nations environment programme's global mercury assessment report.

It is also suspected to be a possible carcinogen for humans, said the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

So does cooking eliminate the toxicity of the contaminated fish? Though the team did not study cooked fish, a different research showed cooking didn't significantly reduce the presence of methylmercury because it gets embedded in the protein of the fish flesh, Chacraverti said.

But he said the study should not be considered the last word and that more studies were being conducted for a better picture.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 12, 2010
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