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Your Environment. Your Health.

Oceans and Human Health

Program Lead

Frederick L. Tyson
Frederick (Fred) Tyson, Ph.D. (
Health Scientist Administrator
Tel (919) 541-0176
Fax (919) 316-4606


Scuba diver underwater with several fish

Program Description

The oceans can affect our health in many ways. Eating contaminated seafood, swimming in polluted water, and exposure to harmful algal blooms can all cause health problems. Scientists are also discovering that ocean life is a rich source of natural products and potential medicines that can improve health.


The ocean contains a multitude of microscopic organisms, some of which produce toxins when conditions are right. These harmful algal blooms (sometimes called red tides) can contaminate shellfish such as clams and mussels, and eating the contaminated seafood may cause serious illness. Some harmful algal blooms produce airborne toxins that cause health problems when inhaled.


NIEHS and the National Science Foundation jointly fund research on marine-related health issues through the Centers for Oceans, Great Lakes and Human Health. Researchers are developing techniques for more accurate and earlier detection of harmful algal blooms with the goal of preventing or reducing exposure, and they are studying the health effects of eating seafood that harbors toxins produced by harmful algal blooms.


In addition, NIEHS grantees are examining the health effects of consuming seafood containing pollutants such as PCBs and mercury, identifying indicators of recreational water contamination and illness, and exploring compounds from marine organisms that hold promise as therapies for neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular and infectious diseases, certain cancers, and other conditions.

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