HANOVER, NH Embracing the belief that an interdisciplinary and coordinated research agenda can have a profound impact on advancing science and influencing policy, a group of experts has developed a roadmap for improving our understanding of how mercury moves through the marine ecosystem and into the fish we eat.
Members of Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Research Program convened the group of 43 leading scientists, environmental regulators, and public health experts in November 2006 to set priorities for a research and biomonitoring agenda that can inform environmental regulation and public health policy. Their report is published in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The group put a priority on monitoring and research across habitats with an integrated approach that considers the poorly understood links among marine sources, biotransfer processes, and bioaccumulation mechanisms that put humans at risk of exposure to mercury. For example, one unanswered question: does the toxic form of mercury produced and bioaccumulated in coastal ecosystems end up in fish such as tuna caught in the open ocean?
"We are intimately connected to the ocean ecosystem," says Celia Chen, a research associate professor of biology at Dartmouth and the lead author of the paper. "For example, seafood is one of the few wild foods still consumed by large numbers of people. Though we know that the mercury found in marine fish and shellfish poses a threat to humans not to mention the ecosystem itself we know very little about the physical and geochemical processes that link mercury in the atmosphere to the toxic form found in seafood."
Many of the 43 scientists at the 2006 workshop in Durham, N.H., have done extensive research on the way mercury accumulates in fish and other wildlife that inhabit inland forests, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. The meeting, titled "Fate and Bioavailability of Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystem
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