Health Effects of Lifetime Exposure to Food Contaminants


Principal Investigator:
Philippe Grandjean, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health

EH-Environmental+Occupational Medicine+Epi

Dates of Research:
September 30, 2006 — July 31, 2011


Toxic effects to the nervous system may become detectable only after a latent period when the deficits become unmasked as a result of age-related degenerative processes. Initial neurotoxic damage may have happened during development, but retrospective exposure assessment could be seriously imprecise. This epidemiologic conundrum will now be resolved in the Faroe Islands, where prenatal exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) may be estimated. Increased exposure to MeHg originates primarily from pilot whale meat, but supplies vary substantially between islands and from year to year. These differences were particularly important before the middle of the 20th century when transportation between the islands was less advanced, and refrigeration was not yet available. A subject’s potential exposure to MeHg prenatally can therefore be classified on the basis of the date and place of birth. Despite the marine diet, the cardiovascular mortality in the Faroes is higher than elsewhere in Scandinavia. We will therefore examine 400 men and women born around 1935, when the variation in whale availability was the greatest. They will be matched so that equal numbers were born in communities with great availability of whale and in communities without. Neurobehavioral and cardiovascular function tests will be used to determine possible effects of increased prenatal and/or postnatal exposure to the neurotoxicants. We will also determine gene mutations (the enzymes CYP2D6, CYP2C19, and CYP1A2, and HFE) thought to cause possible gene-environment interaction. The results will thereby provide evidence on long-term health implications of developmental and postnatal exposures to neurotoxicants.