Not solely is neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez investigating the true results of mercury poisoning on the human mind and nervous system, she’s additionally serving to to advertise the work of scientists and different ladies in STEM from her native Puerto Rico.
Dr Colón-Rodríguez, who’s presently a postdoctoral scientist on the College of California, Davis, has centered on the results of an environmental toxin referred to as methylmercury (MeHg) on the human nervous system.
“Analysis on MeHg toxicity is important as a result of as gold costs have continued to rise, so has the quantity of artisanal (small-scale) and unlawful gold mining utilizing mercury, resulting in elevated mercury emissions to the surroundings,” Colón-Rodríguez mentioned, including that this contamination is especially rising throughout the World South.
She says that though Mercury exists within the surroundings by pure causes like volcanoes and incidence within the earth’s crust), it’s the human-driven (anthropogenic) makes use of and sources that are contributing to its continued and rising presence throughout us.
“Anthropogenic sources embrace the burning of fossil fuels and mercury use for artisanal gold mining,” she mentioned.
Colón-Rodríguez says as soon as mercury will get to water sources, it’s methylated (modified to an natural kind, MeHg) by micro organism, and it begins to build up within the our bodies of fish.
“Then, populations consuming the contaminated fish will probably be uncovered to MeHg and poisoning results embrace visible, sensory, and motor dysfunction,” she mentioned.
Supporting Puerto Rican Ladies in STEM
Colón-Rodríguez says she was the primary in her household to pursue a PhD.
“I used to be born and raised in Santurce, Puerto Rico, particularly within the space with essentially the most low-income inhabitants of the capital, San Juan, I come from a low-income household,” Colón-Rodríguez mentioned, including that generally, in that surroundings, in the event you shared that you just preferred science, the very first thing that folks would say was “go to medical college,.” at that was what was the primary STEM profession folks considered on the time.
“Changing into a scientist was not even considered, and through my schooling within the public college system in PR, I did not get publicity to a scientist in actual life,” she mentioned.
However throughout her junior 12 months in school her father, who had not too long ago been recognized with a mind dysfunction, died.
“That fueled my ardour for locating how the mind works and modifications in ailments, particularly how environmental stressors can result in mind modifications that end in illness or extra particularly, behavioral alterations,” she mentioned.
Colón-Rodríguez would additionally go on to discovered the STEAM100x35 initiative (named for the 100 mile by 35 mile dimensions of Puerto Rico), which showcases ladies from the island working in Science, Know-how, Engineering, Arts, and Math world wide.
“As a Puerto Rican, the dearth of visibility of Puerto Rican ladies in science and the little publicity to science I skilled rising up motivated me to turn into very energetic in science communication/outreach initiatives along with my analysis,” she mentioned.
Her co-founder is Dr Semarhy Quiñones-Soto, a genetics lecturer at California State College, Sacramento. This microbiologist can also be an writer: her e-book, Varieties of Scientists: A Coloring E-book for All Ages, goals to tell about totally different science fields, job positions and careers obtainable to present and future scientists through drawings of ladies in science fields.
He says that accelerating deforestation, a whole bunch of kilometers from the ocean, is probably bringing heavy metallic contamination, significantly mercury air pollution, to coastlines internationally.
In his earlier research of mercury ranges within the hair strands of populations in Colombia, Olivero-Verbal discovered that fisherman in Cauca area had a median focus of 9 components per million (ppm), whereas indigenous communities on the Caquetá River, within the nation’s south had 17.3 ppm. The internationally recognised ‘secure’ degree is just one ppm.
Olivero-Verbal mentioned, based mostly on his staff’s analysis in Colombia, as soon as forests are minimize down or burned for roads or pasture-land, soils containing heavy metals move into creeks, with this silt finally arriving on the sea.
His analysis staff has seen how microplastics, stuffed with molecule-sized crevices, can then carry these heavy metallic molecules to far-away coasts.