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Alaska Statewide Hair Mercury Biomonitoring Program


Mother

The Alaska Division of Public Health has offered free, confidential hair mercury testing through its Statewide Hair Mercury Biomonitoring Program since 2002. The program was started to collect information about exposures to mercury among women of childbearing age in Alaska. As of 2015, over 1,000 eligible women have participated in this program. Hair samples are collected by health care providers or the individuals themselves, and analyzed by the Alaska State Public Health Laboratory.


Who is eligible to participate in the program?

Women of childbearing age and children in Alaska are eligible to participate in the program. At high doses, mercury can harm the brain and nervous system of a developing fetus (unborn baby) and young child. Having their hair tested for mercury enables women to determine their own mercury levels, and learn whether dietary changes are needed to reduce their mercury exposure.

How do people get exposed to mercury?

Most people are exposed to mercury through eating seafood, especially fish. Because methylmercury increases up the food chain, most exposure occurs through consumption of larger, predatory fish and marine mammals. Although the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Fish Monitoring Program has shown that Alaska has some of the cleanest fish in the world, some fish species have mercury levels of potential health concern if eaten in large quantities by pregnant or breastfeeding women or young children. In response, the Alaska Division of Public Health has developed fish consumption guidelines for women of childbearing age and young children. Click here to read all about Alaska specific fish consumption guidelines.

Hair Cut

What does the test entail, and how do I get my results?

A hair mercury test is quick and simple, and only takes a few minutes to complete. It consists of cutting a small section of hair from the back of the head near the scalp, placing the hair sample in a labeled zip-lock bag, then sending it to the public health lab in a pre-addressed stamped envelope. Participants will receive the results by mail usually within one month of the lab receiving the sample. Our office performs follow-up activities to investigate hair mercury levels over 5 parts per million (ppm), and assists in devising strategies to reduce further exposure.

Please contact the Environmental Public Health Program by phone (907-269-8000) or by e-mail (eph@alaska.gov) if you have any questions about the program or would like to order hair collection kits.

Targeted Mercury Biomonitoring Project in Rural Alaska

The Environmental Public Health Program conducted a targeted mercury biomonitoring project in rural Alaska. The overall goal of the project was to determine if there was a link between fish consumption and hair mercury levels in populations that eat northern pike. This project was conducted in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and took place in communities on or near several national wildlife refuges throughout Alaska. Click here for USFWS and Environmental Public Health Program project fact sheets.

Consumption guidelines for eating northern pike were developed for women of child-bearing age and young children who live near wildlife refuges from four regions of the state. These regional guidelines are available in poster format below:

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