The first human disaster due to environmental pollution happened in Minamata, Japan, in the 1950s. Hundreds of children were born mentally retarded because of exposures through contaminated local fish later found to originate from industrial mercury pollution. However, there was strong resistance to the conclusion that a food staple would be hazardous to anyone’s health. A key observation was that the mothers were not harmed by the pollution, only the child that shared the mother’s mercury exposure. More refined research documented effects at lower and lower exposure levels. And when the benefit from seafood nutrients were taken into account, the mercury toxicity was even stronger. Because the pollution occurred in fish and seafood, public health action was delayed for several decades. So, the assumption that otherwise healthy food cannot become unhealthy was wrong.
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