Studies last spring by a Wesleyan undergraduate suggest that eating lots of fish might not be so desirable, after all. Asia Neupane ’09, a University Scholar, worked with Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Joop Varekamp to assess mercury levels in hair samples submitted by 104 faculty, staff, and students. Mercury in hair is known to be strongly correlated with daily fish intake.
The results showed a wide variation—from five parts per billion to 8,500 ppb, with a geometric mean of 540 ppb. The EPA has set the action level at 1,000 ppb of mercury in hair, suggesting that the 35 percent of Wesleyan participants above this level might want to think twice about ordering tuna salad instead of chicken salad. One participant in the study did cut way back on fish intake, and an analysis several months later revealed reduced hair levels of mercury.