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The paper builds on existing literature, highlighting current understanding and identifying unresolved issues about MeHg exposure, health effects, and risk assessment, and concludes with a consensus statement. Methylmercury is a potent toxin, bioaccumulated and concentrated through the aquatic food chain, placing at risk people, throughout the globe and across the socioeconomic spectrum, who consume predatory fish or for whom fish is a dietary mainstay. Methylmercury developmental neurotoxicity has constituted the basis for risk assessments and public health policies. Despite gaps in our knowledge on new bioindicators of exposure, factors that influence MeHg uptake and toxicity, toxicokinetics, neurologic and cardiovascular effects in adult populations, and the nutritional benefits and risks from the large number of marine and freshwater fish and fish-eating species, the panel concluded that to preserve human health, all efforts need to be made to reduce and eliminate sources of exposure.
Wild piscivorous fish, mammals, and birds may be at risk for elevated dietary methylmercury intake and toxicity. In controlled feeding studies, the consumption of diets that contained Hg (as methylmercury) at environmentally realistic concentrations resulted in a range of toxic effects in fish, birds, and mammals, including behavioral, neurochemical, hormonal, and reproductive changes. Limited field-based studies, especially with certain wild piscivorous bird species, e.g., the common loon, corroborated laboratory-based results, demonstrating significant relations between methylmercury exposure and various indicators of methylmercury toxicity, including reproductive impairment. Potential population effects in fish and wildlife resulting from dietary methylmercury exposure are expected to vary as a function of species life history, as well as regional differences in fish-Hg concentrations, which, in turn, are influenced by differences in Hg deposition and environmental methylation rates. However, population modeling suggests that reductions in Hg emissions could have substantial benefits for some common loon populations that are currently experiencing elevated methylmercury exposure. Predicted benefits would be mediated primarily through improved hatching success and development of hatchlings to maturity as Hg concentrations in prey fish decline. Other piscivorous species may also benefit from decreased Hg exposure but have not been as extensively studied as the common loon.
A panel of international experts was convened in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2005, as part of the 8th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant. Our charge was to address the state of science pertinent to source attribution, specifically our key question was: “For a given location, can we ascertain with confidence the relative contributions of local, regional, and global sources, and of natural versus anthropogenic emissions to mercury deposition?” The panel synthesized new research pertinent to this question published over the past decade, with emphasis on four major research topics: long-term anthropogenic change, current emission and deposition trends, chemical transformations and cycling, and modeling and uncertainty. Within each topic, the panel drew a series of conclusions, which are presented in this paper. These conclusions led us to concur that the answer to our question is a “qualified yes,” with the qualification being dependent upon the level of uncertainty one is willing to accept. We agreed that the uncertainty is strongly dependent upon scale and that our question as stated is answerable with greater confidence both very near and very far from major point sources, assuming that the “global pool” is a recognizable “source.” Many regions of interest from an ecosystem-exposure standpoint lie in between, where source attribution carries the greatest degree of uncertainty.
In this paper, we synthesize available information on the links between changes in ecosystem loading of inorganic mercury (Hg) and levels of methylmercury (MeHg) in fish. Although it is widely hypothesized that increased Hg load to aquatic ecosystems leads to increases in MeHg in fish, there is limited quantitative data to test this hypothesis. Here we examine the available evidence from a range of sources: studies of ecosystems contaminated by industrial discharges, observations of fish MeHg responses to changes in atmospheric load, studies over space and environmental gradients, and experimental manipulations. A summary of the current understanding of the main processes involved in the transport and transformation from Hg load to MeHg in fish is provided. The role of Hg loading is discussed in context with other factors affecting Hg cycling and bioaccumulation in relation to timing and magnitude of response in fish MeHg. The main conclusion drawn is that changes in Hg loading (increase or decrease) will yield a response in fish MeHg but that the timing and magnitude of the response will vary depending of ecosystem-specific variables and the form of the Hg loaded.
In the past, human activities often resulted in mercury releases to the biosphere with little consideration of undesirable consequences for the health of humans and wildlife. This paper outlines the pathways through which humans and wildlife are exposed to mercury. Fish consumption is the major route of exposure to methylmercury. Humans can also receive toxic doses of mercury through inhalation of elevated concentrations of gaseous elemental mercury. We propose that any effective strategy for reducing mercury exposures requires an examination of the complete life cycle of mercury. This paper examines the life cycle of mercury from a global perspective and then identifies several approaches to measuring the benefits of reducing mercury exposure, policy options for reducing Hg emissions, possible exposure reduction mechanisms, and issues associated with mercury risk assessment and communication for different populations.
This declaration summarizes the scientific and technical conclusions presented by four expert panels in their critical synthesis manuscripts and in plenary sessions at the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, convened in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, on 6–11 August 2006. The 1150 registered participants in this conference constituted a diverse, multinational body of scientific and technical expertise on environmental mercury pollution. This declaration conveys the panels' principal findings and their consensus conclusions on key policy-relevant questions concerning atmospheric sources of mercury, methylmercury exposure and its effects on humans and wildlife, socioeconomic consequences of mercury pollution, and recovery of mercury-contaminated fisheries.