New Test for Mercury in Minn. Pregnant Women and Newborns

Updated: 03/13/2014 6:12 PM
Created: 03/13/2014 6:00 PM
By: Beth McDonough

Mercury in Minnesota is a very real concern, due to the amount of fish consumed in the state, and perhaps because of certain types of cosmetics.

The Minnesota Department of Health is starting a new screening program for pregnant women and newborns.

Andrienne Landsteiner of Mendota Heights is six months pregnant. She'll give birth at about the same time the new screening starts. 

Landsteiner will gladly be tested. She'll have her baby girl tested too, "this is kind of getting a different angle with a look at different exposures we may experience in utero that we don't know that much about."

Doctors say mercury can be transferred from mother to infant during pregnancy, and through breast milk. "Even small amounts of exposure can have harmful, and even potentially have long lasting effects," according to Jessica Nelson, an Epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Exposure to mercury can cause learning disabilities, birth defects, bacterial infections and kidney damage.

The Department of Health says for most people, fish is the major source of mercury. But experts suspect for immigrant populations like Latino, Hmong, Somali and Native Americans, cosmetics like skin lightening creams could be the culprit. The state bans sales of mercury containing beauty products, but people can still find them. 

The Somali Health Coalition created a Facebook page to make the community aware. 

For Landsteiner, it's about sharing her story and a blood sample. "If I can help contribute in a way for future generations in terms of identifying possible risks, it's a good thing," she said.

The two year, $534,000 study, begins this summer. Results of the test and any possible disparities between ethnic groups, will help guide the Minnesota Department of Health on ways to reduce mercury exposure.

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