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EPA Awards Grants to Protect Women and Children from Mercury in Great Lakes Fish

Release Date: 10/04/2012
Contact Information: Phillippa Cannon, 312-353-6218, cannon.phillippa@epa.gov

Chicago (Oct. 4, 2012)The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced two Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants totaling almost $1.6 million for projects to protect women and children from mercury exposure through Great Lakes fish consumption. The funding will be used to improve health screening and to develop more effective fish consumption advisories.

“Many Great Lakes fish are unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination,” said EPA Regional Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman. “These projects will help women make choices that minimize their exposure to mercury, but maximize the health benefits of eating fish.”

The University of Illinois at Chicago will receive $192,258 for a project to recruit Great Lakes area health care providers and their pregnant patients to participate in a study evaluating the link between fish consumption and mercury levels in blood. The project will determine whether a single question about fish consumption is an effective screening tool to predict which women are likely to have elevated mercury levels and a related increase in potential health risks to their children. Data will also be analyzed to determine whether recreational anglers and tribal members have higher levels of mercury in their blood than the general population.

“When families sit down to dinner, they shouldn’t have to worry about contaminants in their food. Toxins – like the mercury frequently found in the Great Lakes’ fish populations – can be especially harmful to women and children. Today’s funding will help increase awareness of mercury contamination in fish found in the Great Lakes, and give mothers and their families the opportunity to make healthier choices about what they eat,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will receive $1.4 million for a project to improve health screening and to develop more effective fish consumption advisories in the Lake Superior Basin, where a previous EPA-funded study found that nearly one in 10 infants had mercury levels higher than those recommended as safe by EPA. The Grand Portage Chippewa Tribe and the Sawtooth Mountain Clinics in Grand Portage and Grand Marais, Minnesota will participate in the MDH project. Physicians affiliated with the clinics will survey consenting female patients of childbearing age about fish consumption and test blood mercury levels. Patients will also be counseled to promote safe fish consumption choices.

"Fish are critical to the diets of people all over Minnesota and all around the Great Lakes region – including members of Minnesota's Native Tribes," said Sen. Al Franken. "That's why it's so important that we do everything we can to protect Minnesotans from dangerous contaminants like mercury that can become concentrated in fish. For years, I've been working to support efforts to protect Minnesotans' health and restore the Great Lakes – including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – and I'm so pleased that the Minnesota Department of Health and Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have received this funding."

Today’s announcement is the most recent in a series of announcements to highlight EPA’s 2012 GLRI grants. Over the last three years, the GLRI has provided more than $320 million to clean up toxic contamination in Great Lakes Areas of Concern and to reduce the risks associated with toxic substances in the Great Lakes ecosystem. The GLRI, initially proposed by President Obama in February 2009, is the largest investment in the Great Lakes in more than two decades. More information about the Initiative is available at http://www.glri.us.