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I am Barbara Smith with the Bureau for Public Health. I will be discussing some of the findings of the Exposure to Mercury in West Virginia – Draft Version Public Health report.
Once in the environment, mercury constantly cycles through the air, soil, water, and biota. It is slowly removed from the environment.
It is important to note that mercury can be changed to methylmercury in moist environments.
Methylmercury bioaccumulates in the food chain.
Methylmercury in fish is an important component of man’s exposure to mercury.
The public health report showed that 82-99% of exposure to mercury is from eating fish.
The concentration of mercury in fish and the amount of fish eaten are major components of man’s exposure to mercury.
Mercury in air is not at levels where breathing it might cause adverse health effects.
Mercury exposure near a significant source of mercury emissions also showed that breathing mercury in air is not at levels where breathing it might cause adverse health effects.
The amount of mercury in the air becomes important in the methylation and bioaccumulation processes resulting in mercury accumulation in fish tissue.
Even though everyone is exposed to mercury, the amount of exposure in terms of milligrams of mercury per body weight per day is the important factor to determine if adverse health effects might occur.
People who do not eat fish are exposed to  mercury (other than from mercury spills) at levels unlikely to cause adverse health effects.
These are exposures from mercury in air, drinking water, surface water, sediment, soil and food, other than fish.
People can obtain the benefits of eating fish while avoiding harmful amounts of chemicals by following fish advisories.
People who eat a lot of fish containing mercury may be at risk for subtle neurological effects.
Various fish consumption scenarios are presented in Table 9 of the draft report indicating different number of meals and different mercury concentrations in fish tissue. Note that a 1 year old child would need to eat 4 – quarter pound fish meals per month containing 0.25 mg/kg or more to exceed the Minimal Risk Level. Similarly a woman of child bearing age would need to eat about 12 meals- half-pound meals per month of fish containing the same amount of mercury to reach the Minimal Risk Level.  Even when the MRL is exceeded, the exposures are not necessarily at levels where adverse health effects might occur.
Subtle neurological effects are apparent only with carefully-designed scientific study.
Fish are part of a balanced diet.
WVDHHR recommends that people follow state and national fish advisories when eating sport-caught and commercial fish to:
obtain the benefits from eating fish (such as the omega-3 fatty acids needed for proper neurological development) while
avoiding exposures to chemicals at levels that may affect their health.
In fact,s tudies have shown that babies of mothers who have eaten too little omega-3-fatty acids have lower IQ scores.
In addition, mothers in the Seychelles Islands who ate the most fish had children who performed best when tested for neurological functioning, presumably due to the beneficial effects of omega-3-fatty acids on brain development.
Based on the review of information cited in this report and the conclusions, WVDHHR recommends the following:
Even with this limited data, WVDEP should continue to reduce mercury emissions, due to potential adverse health effects from mercury exposure.
WVDEP – Water and Waste Management should re-sample fish tissue for mercury residues, as planned, in watersheds where the most restrictive fish advisories occur.
WVDNR and/or WVDEP should collect additional data about West Virginian’s fish consumption habits.
WVDHHR should increase the public’s awareness of fish advisories.
WVDHHR encourages the removal and proper disposal of mercury-containing materials from homes, schools, and workplaces.
West Virginian’s should eat fish as part of a well-balanced diet while following fish advisories to avoid harmful amounts of chemicals. People should be especially careful to follow fish advisories during a woman’s childbearing years and when infants and young children are in the household.
West Virginian’s, particularly children, should be educated to avoid handling elemental mercury and what should be done should a spill occur.
People who eat a substantial amount of fish or work with mercury should mention this to their dentist or other health care provider when mercury-containing dental amalgams are recommended. This is especially recommended for children 6-years-old or younger and women who are pregnant or nursing. In all cases, the choice not to use mercury amalgam should be made in consultation with a qualified dentist (and/or physician) and weighed against the risk of alternative practices or materials.
The next presenter is Pat Campbell Assistant Director in the Division of Water and Waste Management.