• Because of the unevenness of contamination among species and geographic areas, it is feasible to narrowly target control efforts and still achieve meaningful reductions in exposures.

  • The data base for evaluating the safety of certain chemicals that find their way into seafood via aquaculture and processing is too weak to support a conclusion that these products are being effectively controlled.

The principal recommendations of the committee are as follows:

  • Existing regulations to minimize chemical and biological contamination of the aquatic environment should be strengthened and enforced.

  • Existing FDA and state regulations should be strengthened and enforced to reduce the human consumption of aquatic organisms with relatively high contaminant levels (e.g., certain species from the Great Lakes with high levels of PCBs, swordfish and other species with high methylmercury levels).

  • Federal agencies should actively support further research to determine the actual risks from the consumption of contaminants associated with seafood and to develop specific approaches for decreasing these risks.

  • Increased environmental monitoring should be initiated at the state level, as part of an overall federal exposure management system.

  • States should continue to be responsible for site closures, and for issuing health and contamination advisories tailored to the specific consumption habits, reproductive or other special risks, and information sources of specific groups of consumers.

  • There should be an expanded program of public education on specific chemical contaminant hazards via governmental agencies and the health professions.


Part of the committee's charge was to review and summarize "the current status of regulations, guidelines, and advisory statements issued by Federal and State public health authorities on environmental contaminants in seafood." Its review was to specifically address contaminants defined by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations as "avoidable or unavoidable." Then, based on this, the committee was asked to "assess how well the current regulatory framework protects the public health."

The committee was also charged with the task of reviewing and summarizing, specifically, the health risk assessment procedures used by FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other regulatory authorities for priority environmental pollutants, including toxic metals and synthetic organic chemicals. In addition, the committee was asked to "recommend future research directions, as appropriate."

To set the stage for an examination of how current risk assessment procedures can be improved, the basic concepts underlying the mechanisms of action of toxic substances are articulated in the following section, along with quantitative ideas about dose-time-response relationships. Then an extensive critique of agency risk assessments for PCBs and methylmercury is provided. Finally, the committee addresses issues of exposure assessment and risks from other substances, and opportunities for further research on potential chemical health hazards.

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