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Number of fish meals is a good predictor for the mercury found in hair of environmental journalists


The results of the study were somewhat unexpected:
  • More than 27% of 260 conference attendees who volunteered hair samples had concentrations that exceeded the U.S. EPA recommended levels.
  • The median mercury concentration was 0.5 parts per million (ppm).
  • The highest level discovered was 10.2 ppm.
EPA considers concentrations less than 1 ppm in the hair a low risk for adverse health effects. From analyzing self-reported diet surveys, the study’s authors say that the number of fish meals consumed in the prior month was the strongest predictor of mercury levels in the hair. John Spengler of the Harvard School of Public Health performed the study and found that his own mercury level was 3.4 ppm, more than three times the EPA limit.
A follow-up “high-end” fish consumer study found that people who substantially reduced their consumption of fish containing moderate to high Hg levels were able to decrease their Hg biomarker levels to below the RfD-level within 41 weeks of altering their diet (in that case, Hg in blood was the biomarker measured).

Related Studies

Staffan Skerfving, Methylmercury exposure, mercury levels in blood and hair, and health status in Swedes consuming contamined fish, Toxicology, 2 (1974) 3-23. DOI: 10.1016/0300-483X(74)90038-9

M.D. Turner, D.A. Marsh, J.C. Smith, J. Englis, T.W. Clarkson, C.E. Rubio, J. Chiriboga, C.C. Chiriboga, Methylmercury in populations eating large quantities of marine fish, Arch. Environ. Health, 35 (1980) 367-378. DOI: 10.1080/00039896.1980.10667521

Agneta Oskarsson, Mercury Levels in Hair From People Eating Large Quantities of Swedish Freshwater Fish, Food Addit. Contam., 7/4 (1990) 555-562. DOI: 10.1080/02652039009373918

O. Malm, F.J.P. Branches, H. Akagi, M.B. Castro, W. Pfeiffer, M. Harada, W.R. Bastos, H. Kato, Mercury and methylmercury in fish and human hair from the Tapajós River basin, Brazil, Sci. Total Environ., 175 (1995) 141-150. DOI: 10.1016/0048-9697(95)04910-X

O. Malm, J.R.D. Guimaraes, M.B. Castro, W.R. Bastos, J.P. Viana, F.J.P. Branches, E.G. Silveira, W.C. Pfeiffer, Follow-up of mercury levels in fish, human hair and urine in the Madeira and Tapajos basins, Amazon, Brazil, Water, Air, Soil Pollut., 97/1-2 (1997) 45-51. DOI: 10.1023/A:1018340619475

H.A. Kehrig, O. Malm, H. Akagi, J.R. Guimaraes, Methylmercury in fish and hair samples from the Balbina reservoir, Brazilian Amazon, Environ. Res. (U.S.A), 77/2 (1998) 84-90. DOI: 10.1006/enrs.1998.3836

S. Hacon, E. Yokoo, J. Valente, R.C. Campos, V.A. da Silva, A.C.C. de Menezes, L.P. de Moraes, E. Ignotti, Exposure to Mercury in Pregnant Women from Alta Floresta - Amazon Basin, Brazil, Environ. Res. (U.S.A), 84/3 (2000) 204-210. DOI: 10.1006/enrs.2000.4115

Jesus Olivero, Boris Johnson, Eduardo Arguello, Human exposure to mercury in San Jorge river basin, Colombia (South America), Sci. Total Environ., 289/1-3 (2002) 41-47. DOI: 10.1016/S0048-9697(01)01018-x

José G. Dorea, Antonio C. Barbosa, Iris Ferrari, Jurandir R. De Souza, Mercury in hair and in fish consumed by Riparian women of the Rio Negro, Amazon, Brazil, Int. J. Environ. Health Res., 13/3 (2003) 239-248. DOI: 10.1080/0960312031000122398

M.A. McDowell, C.F. Dillon, J. Osterloh, P.M. Bolger, E. Pellizzari, R. Fernando, R. Montes de Oca, S.E. Schober, T. Sinks, R.L. Jones, K.R., Hair Mercury Levels in U.S. Children and Women of Childbearing Age: Reference Range Data from NHANES 1999-2000, Environ. Health Perspect., 112/11 (2004) 1165-1171. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.7046

M. Legrand, C. Ritchie, P. Arp, H.M. Chan, Mercury exposure in two coastal communities of the Bay of Fundy, Canada, Environ. Res. (U.S.A), 98 (2005) 14-21. DOI: 10.1021/es047996o

Melissa Legrand, Carlos José Sousa Passos, Donna Mergler, Hing Man Chan, Biomonitoring of Mercury Exposure with Single Human Hair Strand, Environ. Sci. Technol., 39/12 (2005) 4594-4598. DOI: 10.1021/es047996o

Melissa Legrand, Rebecca Lam, Carlos José Sousa Passos, Donna Mergler, Eric
D. Salin, Hing Man Chan, Analysis of Mercury in Sequential Micrometer Segments of Single Hair Strands of Fish-Eaters, Environ. Sci. Technol., 41/2 (2007) 593-598. DOI: 10.1021/es061823c

Related EVISA News (newest first)

March 1, 2012: High levels of mercury in newborns likely from mothers eating contaminated fish
February 9, 2006: Study show high levels of mercury in women related to fish consumption

last time modified: March 6, 2024

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