Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, L.E.A.D. Agency, and OU Health Sciences Center are seeking participants for a study of mercury levels in fish and people who eat fish caught in the Grand Lake watershed. Study team members will be at Littlefield’s Tackle Shop Friday October 1, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Saturday October 9 at the Ranger Boat Tournament at Martin’s Landing 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.; and at the GRDA Eco Center Blue Thumb meeting October 28.

For additional information about this project or to learn more about becoming a study participant,email ehatley@neok.comor gmanders_lead@att.net or call the LEAD Agency office at (918) 542-9399.

The study team received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study mercury levels in fish from the Grand Lake watershed and possible mercury exposure in people who regularly eat fish from the watershed.

“We don’t know yet whether mercury levels in the lake’s fish are high,” explains Harvard researcher Dr. Laurel Schaider, the project leader. The close proximity of the lake to potential sources of mercury has made some residents concerned about mercury in the lake.”

“There are six coal-fired power plants in a 60-mile radius of the lake, and much of the mercury coming from coal-fired power plants can end up close to the source,” notes Earl Hatley, the Grand Riverkeeper and co-founder of the L.E.A.D. Agency, a local environmental non-profit. “Coal-fired power plants are one of the major sources of mercury exposure from human related activities.”

The Grand Lake watershed is a popular fishing destination for people who fish recreationally as well as for subsistence fishers. The watershed includes the Neosho, Spring and Elk Rivers, as well as other feeder creeks and streams. Preliminary sampling of several predator species by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality did not find high levels of mercury in Grand Lake fish. The new research study will be more comprehensive in scope and will include all types of fish commonly eaten by the area’s residents. Researchers will also evaluate whether there are differences in mercury levels in fish caught from different parts of the watershed.

Methylmercury, the form of mercury commonly found in fish, is a neurotoxin that has been shown to affect the cognitive development of children. Additional studies have suggested that methylmercury is linked to heart disease in adult men.

“In addition to testing fish samples, researchers will also measure mercury levels in hair samples from people seasonally who regularly eat fish caught from the watershed. Hair mercury levels are an indicator of how much mercury is in a person’s diet and may indicate unsafe levels of mercury exposure. Participants will also complete surveys about their fish consumption, which will provide a sense of whether people who rely on Grand Lake as a source of fish tend to eat more fish than residents in other parts of the state and country. The research team is particularly interested in understanding the consumption habits and mercury exposure among members of the area’s American Indian tribes and Hispanic and Micronesian populations.