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EPA National News: MERCURY RESEARCH STRATEGY UNVEILED
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MERCURY RESEARCH STRATEGY UNVEILED

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DEC. 29, 2000

MERCURY RESEARCH STRATEGY UNVEILED

EPA’s Office of Research and Development has released a five-year research strategy outlining and summarizing the health and ecological risks posed by mercury. The strategy identifies key scientific questions of greatest importance to the Agency, and charts a research program to reduce scientific uncertainties that limit EPA’s ability to assess and manage mercury risks. EPA will study mercury issues such as transport and transformation; risk management for power plant combustion and other industrial sources; and human health and environmental effects and exposure. Mercury exposure has been associated with both human nerve damage and growth impairment. Airborne mercury settles over waterways, polluting rivers and lakes and contaminating fish. In water, biological processes can transform mercury into a highly toxic form called methylmercury that builds up in animal and human tissue. As a result of their mothers’ exposure to methylmercury, as many as 60,000 children are born every year in the United States at risk of nervous system damage. In a 1997 mercury report to Congress, EPA concluded that a plausible link exists between mercury from industrial and combustion sources in the United States and methylmercury concentrations in humans and wildlife. The study also estimated that from one to three percent of women of childbearing age eat fish in amounts that could put their fetuses at risk from methylmercury exposure. A report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) this year confirmed EPA’s Reference Dose (RfD) of 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day as a scientifically justifiable level for protecting human health from adverse effects of methylmercury. NAS also identified a set of research needs for methylmercury exposures and human health effects which EPA has incorporated in its new research strategy. The “Mercury Research Strategy, Sept. 2000,” (EPA/600/R-00/073) is available at www.epa.gov/ORD/WebPubs/final where it can be down loaded in Adobe Acrobat format. Printed copies are available through the National Service Center for Environmental Publications at 800-490-9198.

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