23 Jun 2010

Cook Islands delegate tells UN meeting fish-eating communities risk mercury poisoning

9:25 am on 23 June 2010

A Cook Islands environmentalist says her own high mercury levels, revealed at a United Nations mercury control conference, have highlighted the unacceptable exposure Pacific Islanders face to the toxic heavy metal.

Imogen Ingram has just returned from the talks in Sweden aimed at establishing a treaty on global mercury control.

Ms Ingram told the meeting fish-eating communities are particularly at risk of mercury poisoning which can cause neurological problems.

An informal sampling session revealed she had levels three times the European Union's tolerable limit despite reducing fish in her diet.

"The people in the EU tended to say, well then you shouldn't eat it more than three times a month and I said well actually for a lot of countries it's not an option. You don't say well listen dear I think we'll have steak tonight because they're subsistence fisher people and they don't have any other options."

Imogen Ingram is calling for the World Health Organisation to survey Pacific Islanders' mercury levels as there is little data available.