Overblown fears of mercury have boiled over several times in recent years. In 2001, activists sought a ban on all mercury thermometers. That didn’t work, so now professional scaremongers have turned their attention to fish. Prodded by activists and their ambulance-chasing lawyer buddies, the California Attorney General recently announced that he would sue 20 restaurant chains for failure to warn customers about mercury in the fish they serve. The AG’s office calls the lawsuit “a logical extension” of the equally frivolous case (which we told you about in February) brought against grocery chains.

The groups behind these new lawsuits include the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) and the Mercury Policy Project (which is run by the 800-pound gorilla of radical activist funders, the Tides Foundation). STRP had gone after restaurants even before the current round of lawsuits, because it believes fishing harms sea turtle populations. Suing restaurants is an apt next step for a group that learned to play hardball from its parent activist organization, the Earth Island Institute.

Both lawsuits are especially audacious considering that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is “not aware of any cases of overt poisoning in California, nor would we expect them,” and the CDC reports that “total blood mercury levels” among Americans are “well below occupational thresholds of concern.

In bringing this most recent suit, the Attorney General cited a study by Dr. Jane Hightower that even its author admits is full of holes. For example, Hightower agrees that her results may be explained by “individuals who grind their teeth incessantly, or others who drink hot beverages throughout the day, may be releasing unhealthy amounts of mercury from their fillings.” Some of the people tested by Hightower had elevated levels of mercury but no symptoms, according to USA Today: “Symptoms varied widely and did not always correlate with the burden of methylmercury.”

USA Today also offers the perspective of Alan Stern, chief of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee on methylmercury, which convened two years ago. Stern says Hightower’s study is:

… in the very early stages of a clinical case description, and it’s not at a point yet where it can be translated into a public health message … From an objective standpoint, one cannot say this association goes to the next step of cause and effect.