Subject: Toxins & Whale meat:U.S. HHS: 7-year-olds' neurolo (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 13:52:45 -0500 (EST)


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Date: Sat, 15 Nov 97 14:43:00 GMT 
Subject: U.S. HHS: 7-year-olds' neurolo

U.S. HHS: 7-year-olds' neurological development

   NOV 11, 1997, M2 Communications - Extensive tests of 917
seven-year-old children in the Faroe Islands have shown statistical
relationships between some of the results of a battery of neurological
tests and the extent of maternal methylmercury exposure among mothers
who frequently consumed whale meat, as well as other seafood, during
pregnancy. Due to concerns about the influence of methylmercury
exposure on the developing fetus, the study examined a number of
measures of development. Impacts on several measures of children's
attention spans, memory, language and other brain functions were
associated with the methylmercury exposure.
   The study was reported today by an international team of scientists
in the November-December issue of the journal Neurotoxicology and
   The project was carried out in the Faroe Islands, in the North
Atlantic north of Shetland, where dietary mercury exposure mainly
originates fromeating pilot whale meat. Although whale concentrates
PCBs as well as mercury, the scientists said they had compensated for
the effects of this additional pollutant, which is also a potential
neurotoxin. Worldwide, mercury causes contamination of seafood and
fresh-water fish. Coal burning is a major source of environmental
   The study was supported by the U.S. National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of
Health, and by the European Commission under its Environment and
Climate Research Programme.
   The study is the only one to date to report these associations at
these exposure levels.
   The researchers interviewed mothers who were giving birth at the
three Faroes hospitals in 1986-1987. Under the leadership of Dr. Pal
Weihe, Medical Director of the Faroes Hospitals, a blood sample from
the umbilical cord was collected for mercury analysis, and the mother's
hair was also analyzed. A detailed examination of the children had to
wait until the children were old enough to participate in detailed
neurological tests.
   Professor Philippe Grandjean of Odense University in Denmark, who led
the international research team, said: "The brain is extremely
susceptible to toxic chemicals during fetal development, but we waited
until the children were seven years old so that we could examine the
effects in sufficient detail."
   The study utilized sophisticated neuropsychological and
neurophysiological techniques, and the Danish-Faroe research team was
helped by colleagues from the USA and Japan. In one of the largest and
most intensive studies ever in this field, each child went through five
hours of detailed examinations, and the clinical team spent almost six
months in the Faroes.
   Professor Roberta F. White of Boston University, who evaluated the
neuropsychological results, said: "Several domains of brain function
may be affected by prenatal methylmercury exposure.
   "Most of the results remained within normal ranges," she continued,
"but any developmental delay in young school children may be a
          Professor Grandjean said:
   "Although most European and American diets do not include whale meat,
the study is relevant to general concerns about mercury pollution. The
study from the Faroe Islands suggests that increased vigilance is
needed regarding pollution with this neurotoxicant."
   NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., said: "The study was carried out
with apparent care and with very sophisticated testing, and its
long-anticipated publication will permit others to review its
methodology and the strength and persuasiveness of its data. The
significance of effects identified in this study will need to be
evaluated in the context of other studies of fish-eating populations
including another large NIEHS-sponsored study in the Seychelles
   The latter study found no evidence of developmental problems but has
not followed children as long as has the Faroe Islands study.
   An interagency working group, Olden noted, is currently reviewing a
Congressionally-mandated report on the effects of mercury. The group is
looking at a number of peer-reviewed scientific studies.