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Your Environment. Your Health.

Mercury Exposure from Fish Consumption in Subsistence Fishers in Rural Oklahoma

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

NIEHS Grant: 1R21ES017941

Community-Academic Partners
Harvard University School of Public Health:
University of Oklahoma Health Science Center:
Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.) Agency:
Principal investigator: Laurel A. Schaider, Ph.D.

fishermen fishing in Grand Lake
Fishing in Grand Lake
Photo credits: Grand Lake Dam Authority, Martin Landing

Exposure to the neurotoxin methylmercury through consumption of fish is a major public health concern, especially among children and women of childbearing age. American Indians, who often rely on subsistence fishing practices, consume up to 20 times more fish than the general U.S. population. However, unique rates of fish consumption, species consumed, and food preparation techniques typical of American Indians and other ethnic populations are often not considered in risk assessment frameworks.

The Grand Lake watershed in northeastern Oklahoma is downwind and downstream from several major mercury pollution sources. Grand Lake is heavily fished by local recreational and subsistence anglers. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center are collaborating with the Local Environmental Action Demanded Agency to quantify mercury contamination in this watershed and address community concerns about the safety of the fish.

The partners will:

  • Determine whether people who regularly catch and consume fish from Grand Lake watershed (particularly members of the area's American Indian, Hispanic, and Micronesian populations ) have higher body burdens of mercury compared to (a) other residents of the same community who do not frequently consume local fish and (b) the general U.S. population.
  • Use food frequency questionnaires and measured fish mercury concentrations to determine which species contribute most substantially to exposure.
  • Promote safe subsistence fishing by educating community members about mercury concentrations in commonly consumed fish, including information on length, sampling location, and season.
  • Develop a community-based education program relating to mercury contamination sources, mercury cycling in the environment and regulatory approaches to designing fish consumption advisories.

This partnership will promote safe subsistence fishing practices in a contaminated watershed by educating community members on ways to reduce the amount of mercury ingested. The partnership will also empower community members with information to work with state and regional agencies to develop consumption advisories and promote reduction of mercury emissions.

This partnership seeks to reduce exposure to mercury from contaminated fish while protecting the cultural practices of subsistence fishers.

For more information, visit the project website at:

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