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Great Lakes

Human Health Effects Research Program

Funded Institutions

1. John Vena, Ph.D.
     State University of New York at Buffalo

Project Title:
The New York Angler Cohort Study--Exposure Characterization and Reproductive Developmental Health

Project Description:
The New York State Angler Cohort Study (NYSACS) is a population-based study established to assess the association between past and current consumption of contaminated sport fish, from the Great Lakes, and short-and long-term human health effects. The NYS angler cohort is a representative sample of New York State fishing license holders between 18 and 40 years of age in 1991 who resided in 16 upstate New York counties in close geographic proximity to Lake Ontario. The research program's current objectives include:

2. Edward Fitzgerald, Ph.D.
    New York State Department of Health

Project Title:
PCB, DDE, mirex, and HCB Exposure Among Native American Men and Women from Contaminated Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Fish and Wildlife and Neurological Effects of Environmental Exposure to PCBs

Project Description:
Project 1
An epidemiologic study in an established cohort of Native Americans, the Mohawk Indian tribe, which investigates the association between the consumption of locally caught fish and wildlife and body burdens of PCBs , 68 PCB congeners, DDE, mirex, and HCB. In men and women who live along the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries. The investigators will also examine residential, occupational, and recreational exposure to these contaminants.

Project 2
In order to investigate the hypothesis that exposure to PCBs via fish consumption, close proximity to a hazardous waste site, and other sources has resulted in elevated body burdens of PCBs and has caused PCB congener-specific and age-specific neurological effects, the investigators propose to recruit 75 men and 75 women, 55-74 years of age from an area with historically high PCB contamination. They will recruit a comparison group of equal number, matched to the study population regarding age and gender. Their objectives are to estimate cumulative and peak dietary and residential exposure of PCBs among the study population using current and estimated air concentrations. A questionnaire regarding fish consumption will be used to estimate PCB exposure via fish. Blood samples from these individuals will be analyzed for 109 PCB congeners levels and correlated the environmental levels using "fingerprinting" methods. A neuropsychological test battery will be performed on the subjects and the investigators will attempt to correlate with the exposure estimates and serum PCB levels. Serum PCB levels and neuropsychological function will be compared to a matched control group.

3. Donald P. Waller, Ph.D.
    University of Illinois at Chicago

Project Title:
Great Lakes Fish as a Source of Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Chlorinated Hydrocarbons

Project Title:
The purpose of this study is to determine the effects of consumption from possibly contaminated fish (PCB's, DDT/DDE and dieldrin) on pregnant woman of African-American descent and their newborns. The subject population will consist of a control and a fish consuming group who will be identified at the U.Chicago Lying-in Hospital, U. Ill Hospital, Miles Square Clinic and Altgeld Gardens Clinic (and possible other area clinics). The subjects are interviewed and then followed throughout pregnancy to term. Biological specimen collections consists of maternal and fetal cord blood, placenta, breast milk, adipose tissue and meconium. The investigators will evaluate meconium as a biologic specimen to predict infant in utero exposure to toxic chemicals.

4. John Dellinger, Ph.D.
     University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Project Title:
Ojibwa Health Study II - Epidemiology, Laboratory Toxicology, and Outreach

Project Description:
This proposal continues the study of the original Ojibwa Health Study on dietary fish contaminated with methylmercury and organochlorines (polychlorinated biphenyls and pesticides) and their correlation with adverse health outcomes. The first three years (Phase I) of the project focused on setting up the participating tribes and conducting laboratory toxicological studies. The second three years (Phase II) continued those studies with the emphasis on completing sample collections. Additionally, the investigators will conduct neurobehavioral assessment of individuals who provide biologic samples because of the known relationship between the fish contaminants and neurologic dysfunction. The next three years (Phase III) the investigators will complete all chemical analyses on biologic samples and report the results back to the tribes. Health promotion and risk communication strategies will be implemented with the input from the tribes. The research program will also support the ongoing tribal research aimed at monitoring contaminant levels in the local fisheries run by the different tribes. The specific aims of the research falls in two categories human epidemiology studies and outreach activities.

5. Susan L. Schantz, Ph.D.
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project Title:
Longitudinal Assessment of Neuropsychological and Thyroid Function in Aging Great Lakes Fisheaters and a Prospective Study of Health Outcomes in Asian Americans

Project Description:
The objectives of the proposal are to:

Complete follow-up neuropsychological assessments of aging Lake Michigan fisheaters, statistically analyze the data and prepare manuscripts for publication.

Establish a cohort of Asian American (Hmong people from Laos and Cambodia) men and women of childbearing age who have a high probability of consuming contaminated fish from the Fox River and/or other local polluted water.

Describe the reproductive experiences of this population.

Determine fish consumption practices of this population.

Determine the distribution of serum PCB levels in a subset of the cohort.

Examine changes in serum PCB and serum thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy.

Evaluate health outcomes in infants born to the women in this cohort.

The in first study the researchers will evaluate cognitive and motor function in aging (50 to 70 plus years old) fisheaters and in their age- and sex-matched non-fisheating controls. The two groups will be tested using a neuropsychological assessment battery designed to detect subtle deficits in cognitive and motor functioning.

In the second study of this research project some of the activities will include determining the levels of PCBs in mothers' blood during pregnancy and at delivery; samples will also be collected from the umbilical cord. Mother's blood will also be examined to assess thyroid status in relation to PCB exposure.

The cochlear function will be assessed in the newborns within 24-48 hours of postnatal age.

Physical measurements (height, weight, head circumference) will be obtained at birth, at 6, 9, and 12 months. Behavioral assessment will be done in the newborns (Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale) and at 6 and 12 months of age (Bayley Scales of Infant Development). Cognitive testing will be done at 6 months of age (Fagan Test of Visual Recognition Memory). Further cognitive testing will be done at 9 and 12 months of age.

6. Thomas Darvill, Ph.D.
    State University of New York at Oswego

Project Title:
Behavioral Effects of Consumption of Lake Ontario Fish: Two Methodological Approaches - Continuation of A Longitudinal Study Testing 4 and 6 Year Olds

Project Description:
Dr. Thomas Darvill of SUNY College at Oswego research is entitled, "Behavioral effects of consumption of Lake Ontario fish: Two methodological approaches (Continuation of a longitudinal study testing children ages 4-8 years). The proposal is the continuation of a project which has been supported by ATSDR since 1992. The proposal consists of 2 parts, i.e., a human and an animal study.

Human study: This is a longitudinal-sequential study involving behavioral testing of three cohorts of children born to women from Oswego County, New York, who consumed large amounts of Lake Ontario sportfish over their lifetime. Initial data from the Oswego study of newborns (supported by ATSDR) show that newborns from mothers who consumed ~ 40 equivalent pounds of Lake Ontario fish scored more poorly on reflex, automatic, and habituation clusters of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale than those from mothers who consumed 40 PCB equivalent pounds of Lake Ontario fish or no fish. These data represent the first replication and extension of the neonatal results of the Lake Michigan Maternal Infant Cohort study by Jacobson et al. (1984). More recent data from the Oswego project indicate that prenatal exposure to PCBs impairs cognitive functioning in children as early as 1 and 3 years of age. To date, the investigators have obtained behavioral data at 3, 6, 12, 24, 36, 51, and 54 months of age. Funds are requested to continue the assessment of behavioral and cognitive development of the children in the study as they enter elementary education years (grade K-2).

Animal study: The investigators have previously demonstrated that a diet of Lake Ontario salmon causes a significant behavioral change in laboratory rats, i.e., rats fed Lake Ontario salmon are hyper-reactive to adverse events, but react normally when "life is pleasant." The purpose of the current proposal is to examine putative learning and memory deficits in rats pre- and postnatally exposed to environmentally relevant levels of PCBs.

7. Lawrence J. Fischer, Ph.D.
    Michigan State University

Project Title:
Health Risks from Consumption of Great Lakes Fish

Project Description:
This research grant seeks to continue and expand mercury exposure research supported by the ATSDR Great Lakes Human Health Effects Research Program. This research effort will provide additional information needed regarding mercury exposure and possible health risks to women of childbearing age living in the Great Lakes Basin. This is important because the developing human fetus is known to be particularly susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of methylmercury, the primary form of mercury present in sport-caught and purchased fish.

The proposed research has been divided into 3 subprojects, each with a specific focus. The subprojects are as follows:

Subproject 1. Determination Using Segmental Hair Analysis of the Time Course of Exposure to Methylmercury in Pregnant and Non-Pregnant Women: The goal of this proposed research is to determine the time course of mercury exposure in pregnant women throughout the entire period of gestation. Further, non-pregnant women have been recruited for studies using the same sampling and analytical methodology so that a comparison between the two groups can be made. This comparison will provide information on mercury exposure and toxicokinetic differences that may be related to pregnancy itself.

Subproject 2. Mercury Hair Levels at Mid-Pregnancy and Risk for Preterm Delivery in a Cohort of Michigan Women: The goal of this proposed research is to examine the relationship between methylmercury and early pregnancy loss in particularly susceptible populations. This study will also provide mercury body burden data for a population that has traditionally been understudied, African-Americans.

Subproject 3. Develop and Implement a Pilot Project for Monitoring the Michigan Population for Mercury Exposure: A pilot project will be undertaken to investigate the feasibility of state-wide random sampling of Michigan women to determine baseline mercury levels. Additionally, historical data regarding mercury levels in various species of freshwater fish obtained through the State of Michigan yearly fish monitoring effort will be analyzed to evaluate possible regional differences in fish contamination and to evaluate in a systemic way, the chronology and regionality of mercury-related fish contamination in the state. Results from these studies will permit a much better understanding of fish contamination and consumption as they relate to methylmercury exposure in women.

8. Henry A. Anderson, M.D.
    Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services

Project Title:
Consortium for the Health Assessment of Great Lakes Sport Fish Consumption

Project Description:
This renewal grant continues to examine the association between sport caught fish consumption in the diet of Great Lakes area residents and serum levels of 1) PCBs, 2) DDE, 3) dioxins, and 4) furans which have been detected in Great Lakes contaminated fish. The area residents consist of a cohort of frequent consumers of Great Lakes fish (charter boat captains and their spouses with n = 1868 households, and Wisconsin anglers with n = 129 households) and infrequent consumers (n = 1,300 households from the same community as the captains). In addition, serum PCB and DDE levels are being evaluated in the group to determine if an association exists between the serum levels and 1) birth outcomes, 2) serum thyroid and steroid hormone levels, and 3) reproductive outcomes (e.g., semen quality). Risk communication has also been a component of the study.

The cohort had blood serum samples drawn for contaminants and received a phone interview dealing with 1) fish consumption, 2) reproductive history, 3) health advisory awareness, 4) risk factors (e.g., smoking), and 5) demographic information. Of the frequent consumers, 1868 households completed the phone interview with more than 500 individuals participating in the blood drawing. Of the infrequent consumers, 1,300 households completed the phone survey and 99 of these individuals had blood drawn.

Results have shown the PCB and DDE levels were higher in frequent consumers of Great Lakes fish when compared to the infrequent consumers. A pilot study also revealed that frequent consumers had higher serum dioxin, furan, and coplanar PCB levels than a comparison group.

9. Anthony DeCaprio, Ph.D.
    State University of New York at Albany

Project Title:
PCB Congener and Metabolite Patterns in Adult Mohawks: Biomarkers of Exposure and Individual Toxicokinetics

Project Description:
To conduct statistical analyses of congeners-specific serum PCB data for ~750 adult Mohawk Indians using multivariate techniques and to compare the results with those for other published relevant databases to identify unique populations and environmental variables in the Mohawk cohort.

10. Wilfried Karmaus, M.D., MPH
       Michigan State University

Project Title:
Assessing Effects of Human Reproductive Health of PCB Exposure via Consumption of Great Lakes Fish

Project Description:
The proposed project is a renewal research grant entitled "Assessing effects on human reproductive health of PCB exposure via consumption of Great Lakes fish." The study design is a cross-sectional and longitudinal observational assessment of the effects of PCB exposure, both current and in utero, on reproductive health. The main goal of this project is to assess fecundability and reproductive success in two cohort studies of individuals selected from two source populations at elevated risk of exposure to PCBs via consumption of Great Lakes sport-caught fish. A secondary goal is to pilot a case control study of low sperm count in relation to the same exposures. In the two cohort studies, investigators aim to examine specific hypotheses about the relationship of PCB exposure to reproductive health occurring directly through consumption of sport-caught Great Lakes fish, and occurring indirectly through in utero exposure. PCB exposure, in both the cohort and case-control studies will be assessed by a detailed questionnaire on fishing practices and through serum analysis for PCBs. To assess reproductive health in the cohort studies, investigators will examine time to pregnancy, sex ratio and selected correlates of fertility, including serum levels of testosterone, LH and FSH in men, and cyclic levels of urinary progesterone, estradiol, LH, and FSH in women. The first population (Cohort A), which is already assembled and will be expanded in the next fiscal year, is a sample of couples, one or both of whom is a licensed angler, and individuals resident in one of ten Michigan counties abutting on three of the Great Lakes. Cohort A consists of couples and individuals who completed a questionnaire on sports fish eating practices and who indicated plans to have a child within the next five years. The second population (Cohort B), to be assembled, consists of adult offspring of an existing cohort of Michigan anglers interviewed and assessed by the Michigan Department of Health, starting in the 1970's. In Cohort A, the exposures of interest will be assessed in the couples themselves; in Cohort B, the exposures of interest are in the female member of the couple, with emphasis on exposures that are likely to have occurred while the woman was in utero or exposed to breast milk. Couples from both cohorts who are planning pregnancies will be followed prospectively. Specific reproductive outcomes will be assessed in relation to both serum PCB levels and to self-reported Great Lakes fish consumption.

Summary of Awarded Grants

Epidemiologic Investigations


To characterize exposure and human health outcomes in susceptible populations. Emphasis is on expanding existing cohort studies and evaluation of reproductive and developmental effects.

Summary of Awarded Grants

Environmental Studies


To characterize exposure pathways for persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes basin. Emphasis on developing new methods and assessing the relationship between exposure pathways and body burden.

This page was updated on 03/21/2008