To gather background information relevant to MeHg toxicity, the committee heard presentations from various government agencies, trade organizations, public interest groups, and concerned citizens. Representatives from the offices of Congressman Alan Mollohan (West Virginia) and Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont) also addressed the committee.

The committee evaluated the body of evidence that provided the scientific basis for the risk assessments conducted by EPA and other regulatory and health agencies. The committee also evaluated new findings that have emerged since the development of EPA's current RfD and met with the investigators of major ongoing epidemiological studies to examine and compare the methods and results.

The committee was not charged to calculate an RfD for MeHg. Instead, in its report, the committee provides scientific guidance to EPA on the development of an RfD. To develop such guidance, the committee reviewed the health effects of MeHg to determine the target organ, critical study, end point of toxicity, and dose on which to base the RfD. Because various biomarkers of exposure (i.e., concentrations of Hg in hair and umbilical-cord blood) have been used to estimate the dose of MeHg ingested by individuals, the committee evaluated the appropriateness of those biomarkers for estimating dose and the extent to which individual differences can influence the estimates. Other sources of uncertainty in the MeHg data base that should be considered when deriving an RfD were also evaluated. To estimate the appropriate point of departure3 to use in calculating an RfD, the committee statistically analyzed available dose-response data. A margin-of-exposure4 analysis was also performed to assess the public-health implications of MeHg.


The point of departure represents an estimate or observed level of exposure or dose which is associated with an increase in adverse effect(s) in the study population. Examples of points of departure include NOAELs, LOAELs, BMDs, and BMDLs.


A margin-of-exposure analysis compares the levels of MeHg to which the U.S. population is exposed with the point of departure to characterize the risk to the U.S. population. The larger the ratio, the greater degree of assumed safety for the population.

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