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GLRPPR Sector Resource: Adverse Effects of Methylmercury: Environmental Health Research Implications

Adverse Effects of Methylmercury: Environmental Health Research Implications

Health effects have been associated with exposure to methylmercury for well over a century. Yet, in the case of a severe neurological disorder known as Minamata disease, public health officials and environmental scientists were slow to make the connection between the appearance of neurological signs and environmental exposure to methylmercury. Grandjean et al. (p. 1137) provide a retrospective look at the various political, legal, and scientific forces associated with this delay. The authors note that understanding the cause of methylmercury-induced health effects was impaired by a reliance on narrow case definitions and uncertain chemical speciation, and point out that although methylmercury was known to be capable of producing developmental neurotoxicity as early as 1952, researchers did not understand the vulnerability of the developing nervous system to heavy metals such as methylmercury. They note that scientific uncertainties, as well as various political and economic considerations, led to calls for more research rather than for the development of strategies for mitigation and prevention of future exposures. The authors conclude that the case of methylmercury and Minamata disease is a cautionary tale for the environmental health community and public health officials as they respond to current and future environmental crises. Full citation: Grandjean P, Satoh H, Murata K, Eto K 2010. Adverse Effects of Methylmercury: Environmental Health Research Implications. Environ Health Perspect 118:1137-1145.


Environmental Health Perspectives

Resource Type:

Date of Publication:
August 1, 2010

Associated Sectors:

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