Governance and SocietyHealth

One million DKK for research project on whale meat mercury issue

Elsa F. Helmsdal, of the Faroe Islands Public Health Administration.

Miljøstyrelsen, Denmark’s environmental protection agency, has granted 980,000 DKK for scientific research project ‘The Arctic Dilemma — Evaluating 40 years of risk communication on marine contaminants on the Faroe Islands.’

The project is headed by Elsa F. Helmsdal from the Faroe Islands Public Health Administration. Helmsdal has an MSc in Health Promotion from the University of Roskilde, Denmark.

The stated goal is to reexamine information which has been generally available for the past 40 years concerning contamination in pilot whale meat.

Especially since the 1980s, the issue has been raised regarding public health risks linked to eating contaminated whale meat. The first recommendations from the health authorities were published in the late 1970s after research indicated that pilot whale meat contained high levels of mercury. Since then, official guidelines have been adjusted several times. In 2008, for example, the consumption of pilot whale meat was heavily discouraged. The guidelines are based on the tests conducted by the Faroe Islands Public Health Administration conducted on thousands of Faroese children during the last couple of decades.

The first part of ‘The Arctic Dilemma’ will analyze information regarding the risk associated with the consumption of pilot whale meat published by various media over the past 40 years. The second part of the project will examine how that information has been received and responded to. This part will in part consist of conducting a survey of young women. The last part will include an analysis of the levels of mercury contained in the bodies of these women.

By reexamining the information from these last decades, well hopefully gain a better understanding of where we have succeeded, so we can use this information for future information campaigns about the contaminants,” the Faroe Islands Public Health Administration stated. “There are several societies in the Arctic, where part of their seafood is badly contaminated, and therefore it is possible that they too can find the information useful.”

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