ELEVATED MERCURY EXPOSURE IN NATIVE POPULATIONS IN THE SOUTHERN PERUVIAN AMAZON
The Amazonian region of Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru has a extensive and highly active artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) sector which uses mercury to concentrate gold found in alluvial sediments. Due to poor mining control practices, considerable amounts of elemental mercury are released to waterways, where it is biochemically converted to highly bioavailable methylmercury (MeHg), which enters the aquatic food webs and accumulates in river fish. River fish is the primary protien source for tens of thousands of native persons living in remote traditional settlements across the region. Elevated levels of MeHg exposure have previously been documented in Madre de Dios. However, no previous study has focused on MeHg exposure specifically native populations across the region. This cross sectional study focuses on hair mercury concentrations of persons in twelve native communities representing four different ethnicities in different stages of cultural contact across the region. Some of the communities were actively engaged in artisanal mining. Hair samples were collected from 306 persons between the ages of 1 and 89 as part of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project. The hair samples were analyzed for total mercury (THg) concentration, an established indicator of MeHg exposure. A corresponding survey was administered (when possible) to collected dates on potential risk factors including age, location, sex, frequency and type of fish consumption, and history of mining work. Mean hair THg in all native community populations were significantly elevated compared to non-native populations in Madre de Dios. A majority of individuals in the study population had THg levels above the U.S. EPA and WHO reference values. One native community in particular, had the highest mean community hair Hg values yet reported in the Peruvian Amazon. Study participants who reported consuming fish had significantly higher THg exposure than those who did not consume fish. Segmental hair analysis on a subset of the sample looked at Hg exposure over a 3 year period and confirmed fish consumption as the principal factor in hair THg concentrations.. Study participants who reported having worked in mining had significantly higher Hg exposure than participants with no history of mining. In general, there was no association between hair THg and age or sex, through some relationships were found between age and hair THg in certain highly exposed communities. The results of the current study are consistent with the findings of previous human Hg exposure studies from the region, indicating that an urgent public health risk due to artisanal mining related mercury exposure exists for native communities in Madre de Dios.
INFORMING SENSITIVE POPULATIONS CONCERNING HEALTHFUL SEAFOOD CONSUMPTION
Our seafood safety initiative has worked over the past 2 decades to help pregnant or nursing women, and women who will become pregnant to make informed decisions concerning their consumption of seafood. Our goal is to encourage women to: consume 8-12 ounces of seafood pre week; consume species which provide healthy fats; avoid consuming species which are higher in mercury or PCBs; and avoid raw seafood when pregnant or feeding young children. To accomplish this goal, we have developed free educational materials which have been deliver using: a website (www.fish4health.net); iPhone and Android apps (fish4health); and a seafood safety wallet card. The seafood safety wallet card has been widely distributed (over 1 million) across the U.S. and adopted by State health departments in Florida and Indiana. Focus groups (conducted independently at URI) reported that the wallet card gave women the confidence to safely consume seafood by eliminating confusion surrounding these products. Recently, we recruited pregnant women from a WIC clinic to assess, through online pre- and post-training surveys, the impact of the wallet card on the subjects knowledge and attitudes concerning their seafood choices. We also conducted a 2 month, post-, post-training survey to assess the impact of the wallet card on subjects consumption behavior.
“WHEN CAN WE EAT THE FISH?”: DESIGNING AND PRACTICING COMMUNITY-ENGAGED, -DIRECTED RESEARCH IN AN INTERDISCIPLINARY, MULTI-JURISDICTIONAL MERCURY INVESTIGATION
Addressing global socio-ecological problems such as mercury contamination requires new methods for doing collaborative research and creating mutually beneficial projects between researchers, policy institutions, and community members.This paper focuses on the ways collaborative research has been facilitated in Lake Superiors Keweenaw Bay in the interdisciplinary research project titled Managing Impacts of Global Transport of Atmosphere-Surface Exchangeable Pollutants (ASEPs) in the Context of Global Change at Michigan Technological University. Specifically, it highlights the use of strategic research design and practice in participatory research to identify questions of interest to affected communities and policy actors. By engaging in forums such as workshops, focus groups, and talking circles, when can we eat fish? emerged as the priority mercury concern among participants. These forums were carefully structured in an effort to level the playing field between differing research participants including investigators from social and natural science disciplines, multi-jurisdictional organizations, and Indigenous and non-indigenous community members. Aims for implementing participatory forums were to enhance dialogue on the global transport of toxic compounds (including mercury) and their management in the Great Lakes, to increase understanding of contamination issues from diverse perspectives, and to develop future collaboration opportunities between the research team, organizational partners, and community members in Keweenaw Bay. As a community-directed initiative, when can we eat the fish? significantly transitioned the trajectory for the research to be conducted. Community concerns became developed into an interdisciplinary scientific inquiry, and further, influenced the specific factors chosen to answer this question concerning safe fish and mercury contamination. The conclusion emphasizes the value of explicitly addressing power dynamics in research design and practice, and argues that such forums are crucial for facilitating the type of research that is necessary to address problems as complex as those associated with global mercury contamination. It serves as a reminder that building relationships across disciplines, jurisdictions, and communities is an important pathway toward integrating mercury research and policy in a changing world and thus creating a more sustainable socio-ecological future.
MERCURY CONTAMINATED FISH FOR THE NARRAGANSETT TRIBE: COSTS AND BENEFITS
Fishing and fish consumption among Indigenous populations are culturally and economically vital activities, as well as important determinants of health. While seeking to protect the public from harmful health impacts, fish advisories do not take into account the impact of the absence of fish on Indigenous culture. Conversely, continuing the tribal fishing traditions in communities impacted by environmental contamination has the potential to place tribal members at increased risk for health impacts from these contaminants, specifically mercury (Hg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). However fish is an important source of protein, selenium (Se), and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to have beneficial effects for preventing cardiovascular disease and mortality. In addition, it is known that selenium can inhibit the absorption of methylmercury. In order to help one Native American community assess the impacts of environmental contamination, and to facilitate informed decision-making regarding fish consumption and fish contamination in Tribal waters, the Namaus Project was developed as a collaboration between the Narragansett Tribe and the Brown University Superfund Research Project. Addressing complex environmental contamination requires assembling multidisciplinary teams of academic researchers, state and federal regulators, Tribal government officials, educators, artists, and community members of all ages. To accomplish this, and make this a truly community based participatory research (CBPR) project, Namaus Project team members have worked as knowledge brokers, working to collaborate across multiple stakeholder groups in order to integrate scientific knowledge with cultural knowledge, creating multidirectional knowledge exchanges between Traditional Environmental Knowledge bearers and scientists and regulators. This contributes to building the capacity of the Narragansett Tribal government and its members for informed decision-making and participation in Tribal environmental health policy and regulatory formulation. To accomplish this, Namaus team members gathered and tested fish samples from tribal ponds; worked with consultants to establish heritage rates of fish consumption based on historic and ethnographic data; and hosted focus groups with Narragansett tribal members in order to learn more about the role that fish and fishing have had in tribal culture, and the impact that the diminishment of fishing has and will have on health and culture of Narragansett people. This presentation will describe the process by which this collaborative project was established, the quantitative and qualitative results of the fish sampling and focus groups, and plans going forward to include artists and cultural programs in developing messaging materials for community members on the costs and benefits of fish consumption.
MERCURY EXPOSURE ASSESSMENT IN YANOMAMIS INDIGENOUS POPULATION FROM THE BRAZILIAN AMAZON
Mercury contamination due to artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) has been studied in several locations in the the Brazilian Amazon, reporting a wide range of Hg hair levels in native populations. However, exposure studies are rare in the Brazilian state of Roraima which is home to the Yanomami indigenous people. Recent expansion of ASGM activity in the Yanomami Community Reserve has increased public health concerns in the native community and led Yanomami community leaders to request the Brazilian Ministry of Health’s National School of Public Health to conduct a mercury exposure assessment. The main objective of the subsequent study was to assess hair Hg concentrations of vulnerable groups, women of reproductive age and children less than six-years-old, in two different community locations. Results indicated hair Hg levels were different between the two population locations. Those in Paapiu, an area where gold mining was active during the 1980’s but had been significantly reduced, presented lower levels (median 3.2 µg g-1) as compared with the Waikas region (median 5.0 µg g-1), which has experienced a resurgence of ASGM since 2013. Within the Waikas region, the small community of Aracaca, reported to participate directly in gold mining showed the highest Hair Hg levels (median 15.5 µg g-1). It was concluded that ASGM related Hg was the likely source of Hg exposure for these communities. Also, further studies in other communities of the study area was recommended, as well as an intervention to stop ASGM in Yanomami territories. Health impact of Hg in these communities are still unknown. Study results were presented and explained to the studied group. The indigenous leaders asked the study researchers to present the study findings to the federal environmental and health ministries. Because these isolated native populations are totally dependent on their environment, ecosystem contamination by ASGM related mercury is likely to cause negative health impacts and put their continued survival at risk. ASGM activities in the Amazon should be regulated to reduce and control the impact on this ecosystem. It is also important to raise awareness that Amazonian indigenous communities are essential for the conservation of this area.
EDUCATION AND AWARENESS-RAISING TO PREVENT HUMAN EXPOSURE TO MERCURY: ONGOING EXPERIENCES IN MADRE DE DIOS, PERU
The region of Madre de Dios in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon, rich in biodiversity and ancestral Amazonian cultures, has faced for several decades one of the most serious extractive pressures due to the rise in the price of gold, obtained through artisanal and small-scale gold mining activities, which causes a release to the environment of up to approximately 35 MT Hg/year, with the consequent threat to the health of people, mainly women of childbearing age, children and indigenous peoples.
Although a remarkable emphasis has been given in the last years by the national and international press, as well as by several civil society institutions and by some national ministry, to raise awareness and draw attention to this problem; Very few efforts have been made to influence in an effective and sustainable way the generation of policy and concrete actions to prevent exposure to the risk of mercury contamination in the entire population of Madre de Dios.
Since 2010, the concertation and coordination of local actors decided to influence and work on educational and awareness-raising actions in the general population and in the local education system as strategies to approach and design and implement local actions and prevention policies to reduce Risk of exposure to pollution.
A. Information fairs in squares and fairgrounds.
B. Training of teachers, to approach the subject in classroom.
C. School fairs inside schools and public squares.
D. Development of posters, leaflets, methodological guides for training teachers and health promoters.
E. Research forums, drawing the attention of authorities.
F. Elaboration and distribution of spots: audio and video.
As a result:
A. Change in fish consumption patterns in the city of Puerto Maldonado, increasing the consumption of species with lower risk of contamination, and strengthening the development of fish farms.
B. Training of approximately 700 public officials in the education, health and other sectors.
C. Mastery of the approach of the subject in the education sector: from addresses, specialists, teachers, students and parents, through the implementation of the Curriculum by emergency.
D. Adoption and adaptation of the theme by the staff of the Regional Directorate of Education and teachers.
E. Results of scientific research serving as inputs for the issuance of national standards (Supreme Decree No. 034-2016-PCM and Supreme Decree No. 054-2016 PCM) and facilitating the action of local authorities on the issue (Multi-sectorial Operation for the Eradication of Gold buying and selling shops that re-fired near the main market of the city)
F. Trend in the change in the discourse of politicians and mining leaders, who begin to promote and adopt new technologies that do not use mercury
CASE STUDY OF A MULTI-FACETED PUBLIC OUTREACH PROGRAM FOR A MERCURY-IMPACTED RIVER
An innovative multi-faceted public outreach program has been developed to promote community education, involvement, and feedback for a mercury (Hg) impacted river system in central VA, USA. Between 1929 and 1950, Hg was released into the South River, resulting in Hg concentrations in soil, sediment, surface water, and biological tissues above regional background levels. Hg concentrations in edible fish tissues have led to fish consumption advisories affecting approximately 140 river miles along the South River, South Fork Shenandoah River, and the Shenandoah River. The South River Science Team (SRST) was established in 2001 with a goal to conduct studies to better understand the distribution of Hg in the affected waterways and associated floodplains as well as reduce Hg bioavailability to ecological receptors. As part of the SRST, a multi-faceted public outreach program was created to effectively communicate the presence of Hg in the river system, primarily the fish consumption advisory, to the community, and to promote collaboration with community stakeholders regarding the proposed remedial approach.
A critical aspect of the outreach program is the effort to adapt as new populations in the area are identified or as demography in the area changes. To effectively communicate the consumption advisory to the growing Spanish, Arabic, and Kurdish-speaking populations in the area, the SRST has partnered with James Madison Universitys Promotores de Salud Program. Fish consumption advisory information is available in English, as well as in Spanish, at frequently used river access locations. Additional SRST materials are available at the SRST office, located in downtown Waynesboro, Virginia as well as on the SRST website. Community relations take place through a number of different outlets, including, Waynesboros annual Riverfest, Student Day, and Fly Fishing Festivals, school outreach activities, media briefings, and river-use surveys conducted by Virginias Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The remediation advisory panel was established to facilitate communication between the stakeholders and community groups prior to and throughout the proposed remediation processes. The remediation advisory has representatives from city and state agencies, community organizations, and local interest groups. Various meeting formats are held regularly to communicate with landowners potentially affected by remedial activities, city representatives, and the general public; these meetings are intended to not only keep the public informed of remedial plans and activities, but also to solicit feedback from the community.
MENTAL MODELS OF MERCURY RISK AMONG SOUTH FLORIDA ANGLERS
Traditional approaches to studying and improving environmental reasoning and decision-making processes have tended to adopt an information deficit model, assuming either explicitly or implicitly that if individuals are provided with scientific information in a form which they can understand that they will make decisions consistent with that information. This rationalist model of human behavior has proven inadequate in explaining a recurrent observable gap between what people know and think about the environment, and how they act upon this knowledge; in other words, even when members of the general public accurately know discrete facts about things like environmental risks or hazards, they frequently take actions inconsistent with that knowledge. This phenomenon that has been well-documented by researchers examining public compliance with mercury advisories for fish. One of the most promising theoretical approaches in examining how people understand and interact with environmental systems and explaining the gap between knowledge and behavior examines peoples mental models of the environment. Developing largely out of the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, it proposes that human beings reason and make decisions by constructing and referencing internal, simplified models of the real world. Under this theory, simply providing additional information to individuals may prove ineffective in improving decision-making, particularly as mental models are resistant to change. This paper describes mental model theory in a risk analysis context, and applies it to investigate how recreational and subsistence anglers in the Miami-Dade canal system understand and make decisions regarding mercury risk, and howunderstanding those models can inform better risk management and risk communications from environmental and health managers. Using semi-structured interviews, participant observations, and a review of mercury advisory communications, it examines participants nave mental models of mercury cycling and exposure, and offers potential communication strategies to change or account for these models and improve decision-making about mercury risk.