Actor Jeremy Piven has reportedly abandoned his role in the Broadway show “Speed-The-Plow” due to extreme mercury toxicity. Piven’s doctor told E! Online that the actor’s extraordinarily high mercury count may have been due to a mixture of too much sushi and Chinese herbs, and his symptoms included fatigue and dizziness.
According to the EPA, most mercury exposure in humans is caused by fish consumption. Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in rocks, including coal, and coal-burning power plants are the main source of mercury contamination in the United States, according to the EPA. When mercury is released into the air it eventually settles in water, where it can build up as methylmercury in fish and shellfish.
While fish can be a beneficial part of a healthy diet, the EPA offers information about methylmercury levels in certain types of fish, and in fish in specific parts of the country, to help consumers make wise decisions about fish consumption. The EPA’s fish advisories can be found here.
Pregnant women and children should be especially cautious about the amount and types of fish they consume, as research has shown high levels of methylmercury exposure can negatively affect the nervous system of children, according to the EPA.
Some of the symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include: vision problems; difficulties with speech, hearing, and walking; and weakness, according to the EPA.
Elemental mercury – the kind used in thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, and dental fillings – usually presents a problem when it is vaporized and inhaled. The EPA says that mercury swallowed from a broken thermometer is actually less of a health risk than inhaled mercury.
When mercury is spilled the resulting vapor is odorless, and toxic. The EPA offers specific instructions (found here) for cleaning up spilled mercury from fluorescent light bulbs and thermometers. If more mercury than is found in a thermometer is spilled, you should call your state health or environmental agency, according to the EPA.
Products, including light bulbs, that contain mercury should not be thrown in the trash. The EPA says households are exempt from federal regulations that require mercury-containing light bulbs to be handled as hazardous waste, but some states have their own requirements about how to dispose of bulbs. If the proper facilities are not available in your area, as a last resort you should seal the bulbs in a plastic bag before placing them in the trash, according to the EPA. Check with your state environmental regulatory agency for state-specific guidelines regarding mercury disposal.
More information about mercury and it’s various forms, sources and health effects can be found at the EPA’s mercury site at epa.gov/mercury.
Jeremy Piven Pullout Blamed on Bad Sushi; William H. Macy Rolls to the Rescue. E! Online.
Sources and Causes of Mercury in the Environment. Washington State Dept. of Health.
Spills, Site Cleanup and Disposal. EPA.
Mercury-Containing Light Bulb (Lamp) FAQ’s. EPA.