Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) announced today its partnership with IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network*) to conduct a joint mercury research and monitoring study. The goals of this Global Fish and Community Mercury Monitoring Project include generating new scientific data, raising awareness about global mercury pollution, and identifying mercury hotspots, primarily in developing and transition countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
"IPEN has built a substantial network of non-governmental organizations that are concerned about persistent ecological toxins such as mercury," says David C. Evers, Ph.D., BRI executive director. "Our partnership with IPEN provides a rare opportunity to compile data on a large scale-data that reflects the potential impacts of mercury on human populations. The emphasis for this project will be on geographic areas that may have some of the highest mercury levels in the world."
Humans become exposed to mercury (and its more toxic form, methylmercury) primarily through the consumption of fish. "Many national and international health organizations in IPEN recognize mercury in fish as a threat to human health, livelihoods, and the environment," says IPEN Co-chair, Dr. Olga Speranskaya. "However, these same organizations, particularly in developing and transition countries, have limited or no information about the levels in mercury in fish and communities. This partnership with BRI will begin to bridge data gaps for communities across the planet."
The Global Fish and Community Mercury Monitoring Project aims to engage as many as 40 IPEN Participating Organizations (IPEN POs) in at least 25 countries. IPEN NGOs will collect hair and fish sampling among communities of people living or working in targeted areas with known or suspected mercury contamination. Moreover, there is a focus on vulnerable populations, noting that some communities may be dependent on fish for survival and their economic livelihoods. The initial ongoing Phase 1 includes sampling in 15 countries. Phase 2 will aim to include an additional 10-25 countries.
BRI will receive all samples (fish and hair) and generate the data (i.e., total mercury concentrations) from its mercury lab in the U.S., utilizing a Direct Mercury Analyzer (DMA). The DMA uses methods and technology certified and approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Mercury data generated from these laboratory methods are recognized by government agencies and the scientific community for peer-reviewed publications.
"The Project is especially relevant to the ongoing mercury treaty negotiations, to curb mercury pollution," says Speranskaya, referring to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) global treaty to monitor mercury worldwide. The results of the Global Fish and Community Mercury Monitoring Project are scheduled to be available for the Fourth Intergovernmental Negotiations Committee in mid-2012.
"This collaborative study with IPEN, in combination with our Global Biotic Mercury Synthesis Project provides a platform for monitoring mercury on a global scale once the UNEP treaty is signed in 2013," says Evers. "Existing data, combined with this new information, will help us determine where the biological mercury hotspots are and where data gaps exist."
Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) is a non-profit ecological research group whose mission is to to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research, and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI specializes in assessing environmental contaminants in biota, primarily invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals. Much of the Institute's work over the past 15 years has emphasized the issue of mercury pollution through investigations with governmental, academic and other partners, usually including studies with policy and regulatory ramifications within the United States and Canada. Through regional workshops in the United States, which produce robust environmental mercury datasets and scientific papers published in special journal issues, BRI is the clearinghouse for mercury data for the United States federal government. BRI is now conducting scientific studies linked to policy-making ramifications across Central America and parts of Africa, the Caribbean Islands, and South America. For more details, visit BRI's Center for Mercury Studies at www.briloon.org/hgcenter.
IPEN, a public interest network of 700 organizations in more than 100 countries, has invested in and conducted chemical monitoring activities related to persisent organic pollutants (POPs) and other toxic substances of concern since 2004. IPEN has focused on generating analytical data in developing countries and countries with economies in transition in order to assist the assessment and environmentally sound management of chemicals in those countries. IPEN monitoring initiatives have been conducted worldwide, and have included monitoring human breast milk and chicken eggs for POPs, as well monitoring toxic heavy metals in human hair and consumer products, such as decorative paint, cosmetics, and children's products. IPEN also initiated a global Mercury-Free Campaign, which is an international civil society effort to promote a strong mercury treaty for adoption in 2013, and implementation thereafter. For more details, visit IPEN's website at http://ipen.org
*IPEN - International POPs Elimination Network - POPs is an acronym for "persistent organic pollutants"