01/15/2013 12:46 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2013

Toxic Tuesday: China's Air, Asbestos Debris, Mercury-Laden Fish And Fast Food

In keeping with my reputation as the bearer of bad news, here is more evidence that toxins permeate our world -- and a few hints on how to avoid at least some of them.

  • Face masks could have been helpful for dozens of high school students, as young as 13, who recently helped gut a former Ohio YMCA loaded with asbestos. The kids did the work without any protective gear, according to an investigative report by Ohio's WKYC. The news station interviewed Darren Clink, who lives next to the old building:
  • "The entire site was contaminated with asbestos and the people who were doing it were all children," said Clink. "The kids were loaded with it."

  • While asbestos tends to target the lungs, the developing brain is most vulnerable to mercury poisoning. And the primary route of exposure for most Americans: fish. As delegates from around the world convene in Geneva this month to negotiate an international treaty to reduce mercury emissions, a new report from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine adds urgency. Researchers found that 84 percent of fish contain unsafe levels of the toxic heavy metal.

    But don't swear off fish just yet. The Natural Resources Defense Council offers a consumer guide for choosing seafood low in mercury yet still high in health omega-3 fatty acids -- generally fish that live lower on the food chain such as oysters and herring. Meanwhile, researchers in Wisconsin offer hope for lovers of fish -- even bigger fish -- should the world succeed in implementing new mercury limits. As Milwaukee Public Radio reports, once mercury is filtered out of a lake, it is quickly eliminated from the food chain. Jim Hurley, a study author from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke on the radio show:

  • "When you're burning coal and doing other types of industrial processes, you're increasing background [levels of mercury] by about a factor of four... If you can decrease the sources, you should see a fairly rapid response in lakes like the one that we studied."

  • Fast food, unlike fish, already has a bad rap. And that reputation has taken yet another hit. Three or more fast food meals a week raises a child's risk of asthma, eczema and other allergies, according to a study published this week. (The researchers found that fruit reduced symptoms.) U.S. News and World Report interviewed Samantha Heller, an exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.:
  • "I cannot imagine any parent would choose the convenience of fast food over their child's health if they fully understood how deleterious a diet of fast and junk food is to children," Heller added.