UNBC Prof Contributes to International Mercury Declaration

    PRINCE GEORGE, BC, March 8 /CNW/ - A University of Northern British
Columbia professor has contributed to an international declaration aimed at
drawing attention to the effects of mercury pollution. It was released today
by the world's leading mercury scientists.
    UNBC Health Sciences professor Laurie Chan has been involved with mercury
research for more than a dozen years and has worked with aboriginal
communities throughout Canada's North to document the human health effects of
mercury contamination, as well as the effects of other environmental
pollutants. Chan was one of 40 scientists worldwide - and one of only eight
Canadians - to contribute to the international declaration, which presents 33
main findings based on mercury's atmospheric sources, its effects on wildlife
and fisheries, and health effects.
    "The most challenging part of the research is identifying the subtle
effects of even very low levels of mercury in people," says Dr. Chan who is a
BC Leadership Chair in Aboriginal Environmental Health. "Some of my research
has documented that the presence of even small amounts of mercury can affect
the biochemistry of the brain and possibly slow down the communication between
brain cells. The research we're doing now is quantifying the levels of mercury
in people and what are the subtle effects."
    Mercury is produced primarily from the burning of fossil fuels. It is one
of the pollutants that generally appear at high levels in the North because of
predominant wind currents and the fact that mercury becomes more stable in
cold temperatures. The International Declaration on Mercury Pollution states
that three times more mercury now falls from the sky than before the
Industrial Revolution. The human fetus is particularly at risk, with low
levels of mercury exposure in utero linked to lower intelligence. The
increased concentration of mercury in fish and wildlife also puts aboriginal
people at high risk for mercury exposure. "It is important to emphasize that
not all fish is bad," says Dr. Chan. "Salmon, for example, have little mercury
and eating more fish generally benefits heart health and brain development."
    "This is a global issue and a local issue," says Dr. Chan, who is
currently working with three aboriginal communities in northern BC to document
mercury exposure and its health effects. "The Mercury Declaration came out of
an international conference that attracted more than 1,000 scientists. It gave
us a platform to hopefully influence public policy."

    High-resolution photos of Dr. Chan are available at www.unbc.ca/media.

For further information:

For further information: Dr. Laurie Chan, BC Leadership Chair, UNBC -
(250) 960-5237; Rob van Adrichem, Director of Media and Public Relations, UNBC
- (250) 960-5622

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