Oceans and Human Health
Fred Tyson, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
The oceans can affect our health in many ways. Eating contaminated seafood, swimming in polluted water, and exposure to toxins from harmful algal blooms can all cause health problems.
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 and Human Health and through individual research projects focusing on oceans and human health as well as the Great Lakes and human health. Grantees 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 how climate change might affect the formation and transfer of methyl mercury to the fish and shellfish that humans consume.
NIEHS is also leading the trans-NIH Deepwater Horizon Research Consortia program. Through community-university partnerships, these Consortia are working to identify and address personal and community health effects stemming from the oil spill. Consortia researchers also studied the health of Gulf seafood after the oil spill.