A Probabilistic Assessment of Mercury Exposure to African Americans Consuming Seafood

EPA Grant Number: F6C80505
Title: A Probabilistic Assessment of Mercury Exposure to African Americans Consuming Seafood
Investigators: Holloman, Erica L.
Institution: Virginia Institute of Marine Science
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through September 1, 2008
Project Amount: $109,131
RFA: GRO Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Environmental Toxicology , Fellowship - Risk Assessment , Health Effects , Mercury


Mercury poses a risk to humans consuming seafood because of its tendency to bioaccumulate and biomagnify, and produce adverse health effects. Culture and lifestyle greatly influence the selection, consumption, and preparation of fish and shellfish. Consequently, risks associated with seafood consumption are related to culture and lifestyle. The hypothesis that African Americans experience a significantly higher exposure to mercury than the average U.S. consumer is supported by observations that blood and hair mercury concentrations are higher in African Americans than other ethnic groups. However, specific cultural and lifestyle factors influencing seafood consumption in this community remains inadequately defined.

The objectives for this investigation were developed for a specific region (Newport News, VA) and are to:1) perform a culturally-specific risk analysis within the framework of CBPR, 2) probabilistically define mercury exposure and associated health risks in a potentially highly-exposed African American community, 3) determine mean hair mercury concentrations in a specific African-American community, 4) provide the scientific community with cultural and lifestyle information necessary to accurately characterize distributions of mercury exposure associated with seafood consumption in African American communities, 5) develop culturally-specific management strategies that reduce risks associated with the consumption of mercury contaminated seafood, and 6) develop a risk communication program based on innovation diffusion theory that provides culturally-specific information pertaining to the risks and benefits of consuming seafood.


The environmental justice movement consistently advocates that people of color and the poor have a greater participation in research and decision making as it relates to contaminant exposure. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, community members, organizational representatives, and researchers will work together to conduct a culturally-specific mercury risk assessment and to develop culturally specific risk communication and management strategies for African Americans living in Newport News, VA.

Expected Results:

It is hypothesized that: 1) seafood consumption rates of African Americans in Newport News, VA exceed the mean daily seafood consumption rates of average US consumers, 2) intake rates of a high percentage of African Americans in Newport News, VA exceeds EPA’s recommended RfD value for methylmercury, and 3) that more than ten percent of African American children and women of childbearing age exceed the NRC’s recommended benchmark dose level of 12 ppm.

Supplemental Keywords:

African American, community-based participatory research (CBPR), environmental justice, fish consumption, mercury, risk assessment, risk management, risk communication,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, mercury transport, Environmental Chemistry, Health Risk Assessment, Biochemistry, mercury uptake, African American, bioavailability, fish consumption, mercury contamination in fish, education and outreach

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • Final