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Toxic Tort Attorney Margie Searcy Alford On Mercury Food Poisoning Litigation

In this analysis, toxic tort and product liability attorney Margie Searcy Alford explains mercury food poisoning, discusses relevant litigation, and gives practice tips for handling these cases. Issues discussed include federal preemption, the economic loss rule and EPA regulations.

She writes:

"Mercury is a naturally occurring element. Inorganic mercury exists in the environment in three oxidation states. Volcanoes, rocks, and forest fires contribute to the addition of mercury to the air. Mercury is also released into the air from industrial pollution. The burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, is a huge source of airborne mercury. Mercury falls from the air into lakes, streams, and the oceans. Manufacturers also discharge mercury-containing effluent into the waters. It is in the water that one form of mercury turns into methylmercury through a process called methylation. Methylmercury is an organic form of mercury.

"Fish absorb methylmercury when they feed. Methylmercury builds up more in certain fish and shellfish, especially larger fish, which have lived longer. King mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish have the highest levels of mercury. Species with lower mercury levels include anchovies, catfish, cod, flatfish, herring, salmon, scallops, shrimp, and squid.

"Nearly everybody has at least trace amounts of methylmercury in their tissues. Exposure to high levels of mercury in fetuses, infants, and children may result in damage to the developing nervous system, causing deficits in cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Other symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations in the hands, feet, and around the mouth; difficulties in speaking, hearing, and walking; and muscle weakness.

"Toxic tort litigation involving injuries from methylmercury-containing seafood is still in its infancy." 

Ms. Alford discusses how this type of lawsuit differs from traditional food poisoning cases, and tells plaintiffs' counsel what to expect in such an action. She also writes about tests that reveal the presence of mercury in various food products, U.S. agencies' recommended limits on seafood consumption and rulings in several cases and gives practice tips. 

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