EPA''s Office of Research and Development has released a five-year strategy outlining and summarizing the health and ecological risks posed by mercury.
The strategy identifies key scientific questions of importance to the agency, and charts a research program to reduce scientific uncertainties that limit EPA''s ability to assess and manage mercury risks.
The agency 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, according to EPA.
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 1 to 3 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) last 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," is available at www.epa.gov/ORD/WebPubs/final.
by Virginia Sutcliffe