Methylmercury risk communication needs among women of childbearing age
Willcut, John Lance
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While the consumption of fish is an essential part of the human diet, there are certain environmental toxins that reside within the earth's watersheds. One toxin in particular, methylmercury (MeHg) has been linked to neurotoxicity and consequent neuro-developmental health effects in growing fetuses and young children, even in minute doses. MeHg is known to accumulate in fish and fish products and with their consumption by women of childbearing age (WCBA), growing fetuses and young children are possibly placed in harm's way. To help prevent these health threats from occurring, guidelines and recommendations are placed into fish advisories by governmental agencies (federal, state, and tribal) through the application of the precautionary principle. The purpose of this study was to describe the risk communication status of the Montana fish consumption advisory in non-Native American women of childbearing age residing on an open reservation. Variables studied included fish consumption patterns, advisory awareness, risk awareness, and risk communication preferences. Secondary analysis of data compiled through a pilot study provided the cohort (n = 10) for this study.The majority regularly consumed fish (n = 7), while most denied prior knowledge of any fish advisory (n = 9). Half (n = 5) of the participants denied any knowledge about mercury contaminants in fish, while three stated they knew "only a little". This was emphasized through a series of true/false questions and with the majority (n = 9) having difficulty determining where the highest levels of mercury are found within a fish. A majority of the participants (n = 7) felt that they did not eat enough fish to worry about following the recommendations of the Montana Fish Consumption Guidelines. Important sources of health information to the cohort included: (a) doctors or other healthcare providers, (b) newsletters or brochures, (c) television, (d) magazines, (e) friends and relatives, and (f) government agencies. The results of this descriptive, hypothesis-generating study point to the need for larger scale studies involving non-Native rural women with the recommendations to include information on fish species, portions consumed, children of WCBA, userfriendly advisory pamphlets, and mercury exposure testing through hair and blood sampling.