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THE SUN 4th January 1971

Uncanny Hints of Disaster
by a SUN reporter (promoting Season 2's The Islanders).

There is something rather creepy about the way Doomwatch (BBC 1, 9.20) keeps on being right about disasters in advance.

You would have thought, for instance, that they were safe enough with tonight's theme which is based on the Tristan da Dunha episode a couple of years back.

But no, David Buck, who is guest star in the episode, tells me that, once again, the Doomwatch script has anticipated real life by predicting with uncanny accuracy, the finding of poison in deep sea fish.

'It all seemed perfectly safe, because we were dealing with a past disaster,' he says in a tone of voice which says he still can't believe it. 'But, shortly after we finished all this business about the tuna started to come up.'

Tonight's story in about a group of islanders from a mythical island in the South Pacific, settled by a British family, a century and a half age, and now threatened by earth tremors.

'I play one of the younger islanders trying to integrate with modern life in Great Britain,' says David Buck.

'And not doing it very well.'

What David Buck is referring to is how in 1970, the American Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") issued a recall of 12.5 million cans of canned tuna. Apparently, a chemistry professor in New York tested the contents of a can of tuna for mercury. The professor found values of mercury far above U.S. food safety limits. Independent testing of canned tuna showed that 23% or 207 million of 900 millions cans of tuna packed in 1970 had levels of mercury above 0.5 mcg/g. higher than the standard even of the FDA of the time. The FDA commissioner then, Charles C. Edwards, declared that the fish were absolutely safe to eat – at the same time that he ordered them withdrawn from the market. This, in turn, followed an incident in Canada in 1969 where the Canadian Federal Department of Fisheries and Forestry embargoed commercial fishing catches from Lake Winnipeg, Cedar Lake, the Saskatchewan River and the Red River in the province of Manitoba because of high levels of mercury in commercial fish and decreed that all fish with mercury levels higher than 0.5 mcg/g ppm was unsafe to eat. The Ontario government ordered eleven companies to stop dumping mercury in the waterways.

With thanks to Andrew Wilson and Michael Seely