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Environmental Factor, August 2012

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Dartmouth SRP video addresses mercury exposure in seafood

By Sara Mishamandani

Celia Chen, Ph.D.

Chen is a project leader and research translation core leader for the NIEHS-funded Dartmouth Superfund Research Program. (Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College)

The NIEHS-funded Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program (SRP) has released a 10-minute video that outlines important information for consumers about mercury in seafood. “Mercury: From Source to Seafood” is a web-based film that explains how mercury gets into the seafood we eat. It also describes the health benefits of eating low-mercury fish and the need to keep mercury from entering the environment.

The film is part of a research translation and outreach program funded by SRP to raise awareness of the health effects of mercury in seafood and to simplify the complexities surrounding seafood consumption. 


Understanding the risk of seafood consumption

Because of the health effects of mercury on neurodevelopment, pregnant women and young children are advised to avoid high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and large tuna. However, as the video points out, low-mercury fish, such as salmon and tilapia, are very good for brain development and high in nutritional content, but may also be avoided by some consumers because of perceived risk from eating any seafood. The video explains this problem in an easily understood way, to inform consumers about what they should know when it comes to mercury and seafood consumption. It also emphasizes the need to take steps for getting mercury out of the environment.

“From our movie, I hope that people will understand where mercury comes from and that human activity is linked to mercury contamination in fish,” says Celia Chen, Ph.D., SRP research translation core team leader and research professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth. “I also hope that people understand there are low-mercury fish that are good for people to eat. Both these aspects of mercury are related to actions that people can take.”

Collaborative gives direction to future research on mercury exposure

The video is just one outcome of the Coastal and Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative (C-MERC), sponsored in part by the Dartmouth SRP program. The collaborative brought 50 scientists and stakeholders together to publish a series of 11 synthesis papers related to mercury and seafood consumption, the primary means of human exposure to mercury. The articles are intended to provide a review of current marine mercury research, to inform policy making. The first two articles were published in the June 2012 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. A paper from a research team led by Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., reviews research on the human health effects of low-level exposures to mercury, and another from a group of scientists led by Emily Oken, M.D., explains the need for clear and cohesive advice on fish consumption, so seafood customers not only consider mercury contamination, but also the nutritional value, fishery sustainability, and economic issues.


Karagas MR, Choi AL, Oken E, Horvat M, Schoeny R, Kamai E, Cowell W, Grandjean P, Korrick S. 2012. Evidence on the human health effects of low-level methylmercury exposure. Environ Health Perspect 120(6):799-806.

Oken E, Choi AL, Karagas MR, Mariën K, Rheinberger CM, Schoeny R, Sunderland E, Korrick S. 2012. Which fish should I eat? Perspectives influencing fish consumption choices. Environ Health Perspect 120(6):790-798.

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program, Worker Education and Training Program, and Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

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