174669 An integrated student-centered study of mercury in the economy, society, and environment of the Tampa Bay area

Monday, October 27, 2008: 2:35 PM

Amy L. Stuart, PhD , Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Maya Trotz, PhD , Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Fenda Akiwumi, PhD , Department of Geography, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Mercury contamination is a global environmental problem that has been responsible for some very visible community health impacts. Although many detrimental effects of mercury are recognized, the factors that lead to continued human exposures are still poorly understood. These factors include its cycling in the environment and the economic, political, and cultural issues that sustain its use, release, and consumption. Here, we present an interdisciplinary research and graduate education project whose objective is to elucidate these interacting factors while training students to integrate knowledge and practice across disciplines. The project involves graduate students and professors from environmental health, geography, and environmental engineering. The research is primarily being conducted by students, in part through a course developed for the project with a case study focus of the Tampa Bay area. Our methods include systems modeling, field measurements with laboratory analysis, and population surveys. Specifically, STELLA software is used to develop a model to explore the dynamics of the mercury cycling in the environment, economy, and society of the area. Measurements of mercury in water and sediment along the Hillsborough river, which traverses Tampa, are taken using grab samples and analyzed using atomic absorption and atomic fluorescence spectrometry. Surveys of adults fishing at local fishing sites along the river address consumption habits and drivers, and knowledge of mercury issues. Survey results are analyzed within a risk perception theoretical framework. Results to date indicate the likely importance of local atmospheric sources and the potential role of educational signage at fishing locations.

Learning Objectives:
1. List exposure routes and health impacts of mercury contamination in the environment. 2. Describe mercury cycling in the environment. 3. Discuss the societal (economic, political, and cultural) issues that contribute to mercury use and exposures. 4. List methods from different disciplines that can be used to understand and address metals contamination problems.

Keywords: Environmental Health Hazards, Public Health Education

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am involved in research in this area.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.