First Advisor

Bowie, Tom


Regis College

Degree Name



Regis College Senior Honors Program

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Number of Pages

67 pages


Iraq has grown its own wheat for thousands of years. In the ancient world, this portion of the Middle East, named the Fertile Crescent, was the world's breadbasket before North America took over the title. Unfortunately, the wheat crop failed in 1970. Consequently, Iraqi farmers had to place the largest commercial order in history to obtain seed grain for the following year. When the wheat was delivered in 50 kilogram sacks, the farmers noticed that the seeds were colored with a red dye, suggesting treatment with methylmercury fungicide (Clarkson & Magos, 2006, p. 631). However, the Iraqi farmers did not understand the potential toxicity of the dye and simply washed it off. They believed that they had removed the methylmercury fungicide when the red color was no longer apparent. Despite other warning signs including a written warning against eating the grain and skull-and-crossbones symbols on the bags themselves, the grain was sold and used to prepare homemade bread in Iraq (Clarkson & Magos, 2006, p. 632). Due to the latent period of methylmercury contamination that will be discussed later, the farmers did not observe any immediate side-effects in the general population and fed the grain to their livestock. Ultimately, after about a month of exposure to the contaminated grain, Iraqi citizens first experienced paresthesia, which is the experience of tingling and numbness of a person's skin. Soon after these initial symptoms, they experienced ataxia (unsteadiness), dysarthria (a speech disorder), loss of vision, and other irreversible neurological effects. Once the problem was discovered and resolved, some individuals did have moderate recoveries, but most citizens were changed for the rest of their lives, and multiple herds of livestock were lost. This occurrence in Iraq can be correlated with other mercury contamination problems that have adversely affected other populations. The Iraqi problem shows the effects of short term exposure. The next question becomes: what could happen to a population exposed to chronic or lifetime exposure to mercury (Clarkson & Magos, 2006, p. 632)? The following cases examine the results of this type of exposure.

Date of Award

Spring 2006

Location (Creation)

Denver, Colorado

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