Friday, 3 February 2012

Pollutants and Environmental Health; Mercury dynamics in aquatic systems: linking natural resource management with human health policy


The fourth weekly session of this semester’s One Health Intellectual Exchange series focused on the impact of environmental toxins on animal and human health and featured presentations by Drs. Joel Meyer and Derek Aday.  Their unique experiences and areas of expertise contributed richness to a complex topic and underscore the importance of One Health’s mission of encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue.

Dr. Meyer, assistant professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment of Duke University, started the night off with an introduction to the concepts of epidemiology and toxicology. Through his lecture, he demonstrated the link between the two fields of study. Specifically, Dr. Myer discusses the ramifications of toxicology on human health and the role of epidemiology through examples of toxins that have been consumed by humans. 

Dr. Joel Meyer, Duke University

Building on Dr. Meyer’s lecture on epidemiology and toxicology, Dr. Aday’s presentation served as an illustrative case study of the relationship between the two fields of study through an examination of mercury accumulation in aquatic life. By explaining the different, and often conflicting, interests of anglers and human health agencies, Dr. Aday demonstrated the difficulties associated with effectively minimizing harm.

Dr. Derek Aday, NCSU

Throughout the evening, one key theme discussed by both speakers is the challenge of determining and communicating toxicity to consumers due to the lack of a uniform definition. From a relative risk perspective, it is difficult to determine the exact harm inflicted by a chemical due to challenges in determining dose-response and the variations of chemical properties that are dependent on contextual factors such as the environment. Additionally, the relative risk imposed by a toxin may be small compared to risks posed by other variables in an individual’s life, making it difficult to set an objective relative risk level on which to intervene. Another factor that complicates this is the multiple stakeholders involved in determining and measuring toxicity, each with its own standards and agendas. The lack of a standardized toxicity measurement across stakeholders contributes to consumer misinformation and highlights the need for multidisciplinary cooperation.

Post authored by Shelly Yu, UNC MPH Candidate

Up next (7 Feb): The Links Between Animal Abuse & Family Violence: Implications for the Medical Professions
Phil Arkow, Coordinator, The National Link Coalition; Link Consultant, ASPCA; Link Consultant, Animals & Society Institute; Chair, Animal Abuse & Family Violence Prevention Project, The Latham Foundation