IDEA Consultants Researcher Miwako Ueda assists IAS Lab Technician Anaseini Turukawa in measuring hair samples for Mercury Analysis.
The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS) Laboratory Services staff were trained on Mercury Sampling by the Institute of Developing Economies (IDEA) Inc consultants from Japan who visited Fiji in December 2017.
The training, which was held at the IAS laboratory at the lower campus in Laucala is part of an initiative by Japan’s Ministry of Environment on monitoring mercury levels in the Pacific Island region.
Apart from Fiji, the consultants had also visited Samoa and Papua New Guinea to gain better understanding on such activities in the Pacific region and to develop long-term monitoring networks on mercury levels in the regional environment and populations.
Being experts in the field of mercury testing in the environment and human populations, the IDEA consultants demonstrated sampling techniques for the collection of human hair, ambient air and water to test for mercury.
These demonstrations enabled IAS laboratory staff to gain hands-on experience in setting up samplers, collecting samples as well as record keeping (data logging).
This training added to the experience of the IAS laboratory technicians who routinely do mercury testing in food samples.
The private consultants held a brief meeting with Dr Johann Poinapen, Director IAS, including other senior IAS Laboratory staff discussing the multi-disciplinary services provided by the Institute and services offered by the visiting team.
Dr Poinapen acknowledged the efforts of the visiting team and added that such training helps to augment the skills and knowledge of IAS laboratory staff in proper samples collection for mercury analysis and monitoring.
IAS, one of the six global regional reference laboratory for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and IDEA had explored establishing a partnership along with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Government of Japan.
The partnership was to be for long-term monitoring of mercury and to achieve the objectives of Global Conventions such as the Minamata Convention which aims to reduce exposure to mercury.
The effects of exposure to low levels of mercury are well documented globally and is a public health concern.
As 80 to 90 per cent of human hair is composed of keratin, which contains an amino acid group high in sulfhydryl groups that easily combines with mercury; the mercury concentration in hair can become high.
Hair analysis can reveal the level of mercury exposure that has occurred over a period of time in people. Hair mercury concentration is also known to be proportionate to blood mercury concentration.
The World Health Organisation recommends the monitoring of methylmercury concentration in pregnant women’s hair and argues that the level of 10 ppm or above can increase the risk of fetal neurological defects.
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