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Assessing potential health risks to fish and humans using mercury concentrations in inland fish from across western Canada and the United States

Lepak, Jesse M., Hooten, Mevin B., Eagles-Smith, Collin A., Tate, Michael T., Lutz, Michelle A., Ackerman, Joshua T., Willacker, James J., Jackson, Allyson K., Evers, David C., Wiener, James G., Pritz, Colleen Flanagan, Davis, Jay
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.571 pp. 342-354
aquatic ecosystems, fish consumption, humans, mercury, monitoring, predatory fish, risk, uncertainty, Canada, United States
Fish represent high quality protein and nutrient sources, but Hg contamination is ubiquitous in aquatic ecosystems and can pose health risks to fish and their consumers. Potential health risks posed to fish and humans by Hg contamination in fish were assessed in western Canada and the United States. A large compilation of inland fish Hg concentrations was evaluated in terms of potential health risk to the fish themselves, health risk to predatory fish that consume Hg contaminated fish, and to humans that consume Hg contaminated fish. The probability that a fish collected from a given location would exceed a Hg concentration benchmark relevant to a health risk was calculated. These exceedance probabilities and their associated uncertainties were characterized for fish of multiple size classes at multiple health-relevant benchmarks. The approach was novel and allowed for the assessment of the potential for deleterious health effects in fish and humans associated with Hg contamination in fish across this broad study area. Exceedance probabilities were relatively common at low Hg concentration benchmarks, particularly for fish in larger size classes. Specifically, median exceedances for the largest size classes of fish evaluated at the lowest Hg concentration benchmarks were 0.73 (potential health risks to fish themselves), 0.90 (potential health risk to predatory fish that consume Hg contaminated fish), and 0.97 (potential for restricted fish consumption by humans), but diminished to essentially zero at the highest benchmarks and smallest fish size classes. Exceedances of benchmarks are likely to have deleterious health effects on fish and limit recommended amounts of fish humans consume in western Canada and the United States. Results presented here are not intended to subvert or replace local fish Hg data or consumption advice, but provide a basis for identifying areas of potential health risk and developing more focused future research and monitoring efforts.