We’d like to congratulate Lauren Giandomenico for her award of best MRP for Winter 2020!
Lauren’s MRP, entitled ‘’ Measuring the Effects of Methylmercury Exposure on Education Outcomes within First Nations Communities in Ontario’’, under the supervision of Ravi Pendakur and Nicholas Rivers, can be used as a model of best practice to our current and future graduate students. We hoped to highlight Lauren’s achievement at our yearly Gala in April 2020 which was unfortunately cancelled due to the closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In lieu, we’d like to share the abstract with you:
“This paper explored the effect of early life Methylmercury (MeHg) exposure on educational attainment within First Nations communities in Ontario. MeHg is a known neurotoxin that most commonly affects humans through their fish consumption. Developmental delays, poor scholastic performance, and memory loss are some of the long term effects of MeHg exposure. MeHg has the most severe health effects when exposure occurs in-utero or under the age of 15. For this sensitive population, it is recommended that individuals limit their fish consumption to 150 grams (pregnant women), 75 grams (1-4-year-olds), and 125 grams (5-11-year-olds) per month, and categorically refrain from consuming fish with more than 0.5 μg/g of MeHg. However, First Nations communities who rely upon fish consumption for survival often consume more than the recommended amounts of fish, and certain regions of Ontario have fish with MeHg concentrations as high as 4 μg/g–8 times higher than what is considered safe. This places young populations living on reserves in Ontario at uniquely high risk to the long term cognitive effects of MeHg exposure. Do these cognitive impairments brought about by early life exposure to MeHg limit educational attainment?
I pursued an analytical, cross-sectional study to measure the effect of early life exposure to MeHg in fish on the 2016 education outcomes of 7,440 Indigenous peoples living on reserves in
Ontario. I looked at the highest certificate, diploma, or degree earned by 24-40-year-olds living on a reserve in 2016 that had access to MeHg-contaminated fish in 1991. Early life exposure was captured by looking at 1991 MeHg concentrations in fish because the 2016 population of 24-40-year-olds would have been either in-utero or under the age of 15 in 1991. I generated multiple linear regressions to measure the effect of a 1 μg/g increase in the average MeHg concentration in nearby fish in 1991 on an individual’s probability of earning no educational certification, a high school diploma, and a post secondary certificate, diploma, or degree in 2016. 1 μg/g of MeHg in fish is the equivalent of one millionth of a gram, and it is double the amount of MeHg in fish than what can be safely consumed by the sensitive population.
Holding constant all confounding factors measured in this study, a 1 μg/g increase in the average concentration of MeHg in nearby fish early in life increased the chance that individuals would not earn any level of education by 29.4%-31.2% (p < 0.001). Individuals were 12.4% - 16.3% (p< 0.001) less likely to earn a high school diploma, and were anywhere from a 13.1%-18.8% (p <0.001) less likely to earn a post-secondary certificate, diploma, or degree when the average concentration of MeHg in nearby fish increased by 1 μg/g. The educational attainment of residents who lived on reserves in Northwestern Ontario were also found to be more vulnerable to the effects of MeHg in fish. Individuals that lived on reserves in these regions were 34.5%-37.6% (p < 0.001) more likely to have earned no education as a result of a 1 μg/g increase in the MeHg concentration in local fish. This study is the first of its kind to identify long term educational impacts of the cognitive
impairments brought about my MeHg exposure within this critical population. Results from this study should be used to encourage further research in this area and to provide preliminary
evidence upon which stronger interventions and adequate on-reserve health programs can be based.’’ (“Measuring the Effects of Methylmercury Exposure on Education Outcomes within First Nations Communities in Ontario”, Lauren Giandomenico, 2020)
Congratulations, Lauren! Best of luck!