Mercury consumption and human health: Linking pollution and social risk perception in the southeastern United States

Año Publicación:  2020
Responsable: N. Ferreira-Rodriguez et al.
Journal, Volumen y páginas:
Journal of Environmental Management


N. Ferreira-Rodriguez, A. J. Castro, B. N. Tweedy, C. Quintas-Soriano & C. Vaughn


The study of the relationships between freshwater organisms, pollution and public awareness has been little researched. The public's perception of risk from pollution is a fundamental component in determining consumer behavior and promoting healthy habits. For instance, understanding how consumers perceive the risks associated with pollution can help with adoption of safe behaviors to reduce the health hazard associated with pollutant exposure. This study focused on the southeastern United States, a region predicted to be exposed to high mercury stress by increasing mercury deposition and methylation. First, we placed our study region in the world map of regions more prone to suffer from increasing mercury stress in a climate change scenario. Second, mercury levels in fish tissues was quantified by direct mercury analyzer (DMA). Third, we explored human fish consumption habits and risk social perception, including willingness to adapt fish consumption based on two future hypothetical scenarios of mercury stress. From a global perspective, our analysis demonstrates that the southern US is one of five world areas of greatest conservation concern for mercury stress. In this region, the average mono-methyl mercury concentration in fish tissues exceeded the limits considered safe for human consumption. Even though many in the local population were aware of the health hazards associated with fish consumption, only women of reproductive age were willing to adopt safe consumption habits. Altogether, these results show how bringing together field data, social perceptions, and consumption habits can help in designing an adaptive strategy to confront mercury pollution. Although our results are for the United States, other world regions prone to suffer increasing mercury stress have been identified and should be the focus of future studies and prescriptions.

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