Methylmercury risk, awareness, and exposure in recreational anglers
Angert, Stephanie Diane
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While fish and seafood are a beneficial food source for all ages, some populations are at risk for exposure to environmental pollutants found in fish. Methylmercury is one such toxin found in nearly all fish species. Regular consumption of fish, especially those high in methylmercury, is associated with neurotoxicities in developing fetuses and children and increased risk for cardiovascular disease in adults. National and state fish advisories are established to guide the general population in safe fish-eating practices. Although not commonly studied, research suggests anglers likely have higher exposures to methylmercury due to greater consumption of locally-caught fish. The purpose of this study was to examine fish consumption patterns, fish advisory awareness, risk communication preferences, and actual methylmercury exposure among recreational anglers. Further evaluation was necessary to determine the type, size, amount, and frequency of fish consumed by the anglers, assess awareness of fish consumption advisories, and measure actual methylmercury exposure relative to dietary intake of fish, in order to ascertain whether this population is at risk and in need of a risk communication intervention. A convenience sample was performed with participating recreational anglers (N = 31). A survey completed by the participants examined fish consumption patterns, fish advisory awareness, and risk communication preferences. Biomarker assessment included hair mercury analysis to measure actual methylmercury exposure in the participating angler population (N = 25). Results revealed elevated hair mercury levels in 32% of participants (n = 8). After adjusting for all other variables, anglers who eat northern pike and walleye had significantly higher hair mercury levels (p = 0.009 and p = 0.016 respectively) than those who do not. Additionally, anglers who fish in lakes have higher hair mercury levels than those who do not (p = 0.005). Advisory awareness was not a significant factor after adjusting for all other variables. Additional research is needed to (a) improve the identification of specific routes of exposure (fish species, size, and waterbody) in recreational anglers, (b) identify the health impacts of mercury in the exposed population, and (c) establish effective risk reduction interventions specific for the angler population.