Global methylmercury exposure from seafood consumption and risk of developmental neurotoxicity: a systematic review

TitleGlobal methylmercury exposure from seafood consumption and risk of developmental neurotoxicity: a systematic review
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsSheehan, MC, Burke, TA, Navas-Acien, A, McGready, J, Fox, MA
JournalBulletin of the World Health Organization
Pagination254 - 269F
Date Published2014/04/01
ISBN Number1564-06040042-9686
KeywordsAdult, Biomarkers/blood, Environmental Exposure/adverse effects/*analysis, Female, Global Health, Hair/chemistry, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Methylmercury Compounds/adverse effects/*analysis, Neurotoxicity Syndromes/etiology, Pregnancy, Rivers, Seafood/adverse effects/*analysis, Water Pollutants, Chemical/adverse effects/*analysis, Young Adult

OBJECTIVE: To examine biomarkers of methylmercury (MeHg) intake in women and infants from seafood-consuming populations globally and characterize the comparative risk of fetal developmental neurotoxicity.

METHODS: A search was conducted of the published literature reporting total mercury (Hg) in hair and blood in women and infants. These biomarkers are validated proxy measures of MeHg, a neurotoxin found primarily in seafood. Average and high-end biomarkers were extracted, stratified by seafood consumption context, and pooled by category. Medians for average and high-end pooled distributions were compared with the reference level established by a joint expert committee of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

FINDINGS: Selection criteria were met by 164 studies of women and infants from 43 countries. Pooled average biomarkers suggest an intake of MeHg several times over the FAO/WHO reference in fish-consuming riparians living near small-scale gold mining and well over the reference in consumers of marine mammals in Arctic regions. In coastal regions of south-eastern Asia, the western Pacific and the Mediterranean, average biomarkers approach the reference. Although the two former groups have a higher risk of neurotoxicity than the latter, coastal regions are home to the largest number at risk. High-end biomarkers across all categories indicate MeHg intake is in excess of the reference value.

CONCLUSION: There is a need for policies to reduce Hg exposure among women and infants and for surveillance in high-risk populations, the majority of which live in low-and middle-income countries.

Short TitleBull World Health Organ