By Molly Rauch, Moms Clean Air Force
While researching my blog series on mercury, I kept reading about “mixed results” of epidemiological research on mercury, with the implication that we can’t be sure whether methylmercury exposure from eating fish is harming children. I decided to get to the bottom of this and some other questions by talking with Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and Dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, where he also directs the Children’s Environmental Health Center. Dr. Landrigan is an expert on children’s environmental health, and has written extensively about the health effects of exposure to mercury, lead, and other chemicals in the environment. (Full disclosure: back in the era of my personal history that I refer to as B.C. — Before Children — as luck would have it, I had the great privilege of working for Dr. Landrigan.) Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.
Interview With Dr. Philip Landigan:
What do you make of epidemiological studies that show no neurological impact of methylmercury exposures?
I’ll put it a different way. The best of the epidemiologic studies have shown an impact. There have been three epidemiologic studies. There was Philippe Grandjean’s study in the Faroe Islands, there was Tord Kjellstrom’s study in New Zealand, and thirdly there’s the study that was done in the Seychelles by the group from the University of Rochester. Of those studies, the Faroes study, has clearly shown an effect. The New Zealand study also shows a clear effect. And the Seychelles study, which has long been touted as a negative study, actually shows some evidence of an effect when you dig down into the data. When the National Academy of Sciences reviewed this issue in 2000, they made the determination that the benchmark study that people should use is the Faroe Islands study. They consider it to be the best one.
Can you talk about the health impacts of methylmercury aside from its effects on the brain?
There’s suspicion that it interferes with cardiac function, possibly by interfering with the cells in the heart that are involved in regulating cardiac rhythm. There have been published studies that show that people who are exposed to mercury have elevated rates of heart disease.
Next page: more of my interview with Dr. Landigan