Logo of envhperEnvironmental Health PerspectivesBrowse ArticlesAbout EHPGeneral InformationAuthorsMediaProgramsPartnerships
Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Apr; 111(4): 604–608.
PMCID: PMC1241452
Research Article

Mercury levels in high-end consumers of fish.


Consumption of food containing mercury has been identified as a health risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences recommend keeping the whole blood mercury level < 5.0 microg/L or the hair level < 1.0 microg/g. This corresponds to a reference dose (RfD) of 0.1 microg/kg body weight per day. All patients in a 1-year period (n = 720) who came for an office visit in a private internal medicine practice in San Francisco, California, were evaluated for mercury excess using the current RfD. One hundred twenty-three patients were tested (93 females, 30 males). Of these, data were statistically analyzed for 89 subjects. Mercury levels ranged from 2.0 to 89.5 microg/L for the 89 subjects. The mean for 66 women was 15 microg/L [standard deviation (SD) = 15], and for 23 men was 13 microg/L (SD = 5); 89% had levels exceeding the RfD. Subjects consumed 30 different forms or types of fish. Swordfish had the highest correlation with mercury level. Sixty-seven patients with serial blood levels over time after stopping fish showed a decline in mercury levels; reduction was significant (p < 0.0001). A substantial fraction of patients had diets high in fish consumption; of these, a high proportion had blood mercury levels exceeding the maximum level recommended by the U.S. EPA and National Academy of Sciences. The mean level for women in this survey was 10 times that of mercury levels found in a recent population survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some children were > 40 times the national mean.

Full Text

The Full Text of this article is available as a PDF (146K).

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Bjerregaard P, Hansen JC. Organochlorines and heavy metals in pregnant women from the Disko Bay area in Greenland. Sci Total Environ. 2000 Jan 17;245(1-3):195–202. [PubMed]
  • Chicourel EL, Sakuma AM, Zenebon O, Tenuta-Filho A. Inefficacy of cooking methods on mercury reduction from shark. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 2001 Sep;51(3):288–292. [PubMed]
  • Clarkson TW. The toxicology of mercury. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 1997;34(4):369–403. [PubMed]
  • Davis LE, Kornfeld M, Mooney HS, Fiedler KJ, Haaland KY, Orrison WW, Cernichiari E, Clarkson TW. Methylmercury poisoning: long-term clinical, radiological, toxicological, and pathological studies of an affected family. Ann Neurol. 1994 Jun;35(6):680–688. [PubMed]
  • Frustaci A, Magnavita N, Chimenti C, Caldarulo M, Sabbioni E, Pietra R, Cellini C, Possati GF, Maseri A. Marked elevation of myocardial trace elements in idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy compared with secondary cardiac dysfunction. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1999 May;33(6):1578–1583. [PubMed]
  • Fukuda Y, Ushijima K, Kitano T, Sakamoto M, Futatsuka M. An analysis of subjective complaints in a population living in a methylmercury-polluted area. Environ Res. 1999 Aug;81(2):100–107. [PubMed]
  • Hansen JC, Tarp U, Bohm J. Prenatal exposure to methyl mercury among Greenlandic polar Inuits. Arch Environ Health. 1990 Nov-Dec;45(6):355–358. [PubMed]
  • Harada M. Minamata disease: methylmercury poisoning in Japan caused by environmental pollution. Crit Rev Toxicol. 1995;25(1):1–24. [PubMed]
  • Kingman A, Albertini T, Brown LJ. Mercury concentrations in urine and whole blood associated with amalgam exposure in a US military population. J Dent Res. 1998 Mar;77(3):461–471. [PubMed]
  • Krauss RM, Eckel RH, Howard B, Appel LJ, Daniels SR, Deckelbaum RJ, Erdman JW, Jr, Kris-Etherton P, Goldberg IJ, Kotchen TA, et al. AHA Dietary Guidelines: revision 2000: A statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2000 Oct 31;102(18):2284–2299. [PubMed]
  • Mahaffey KR. Methylmercury: a new look at the risks. Public Health Rep. 1999 Sep-Oct;114(5):396–413. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Pedersen MB, Hansen JC, Mulvad G, Pedersen HS, Gregersen M, Danscher G. Mercury accumulations in brains from populations exposed to high and low dietary levels of methyl mercury. Concentration, chemical form and distribution of mercury in brain samples from autopsies. Int J Circumpolar Health. 1999 Apr;58(2):96–107. [PubMed]
  • Rissanen T, Voutilainen S, Nyyssönen K, Lakka TA, Salonen JT. Fish oil-derived fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and docosapentaenoic acid, and the risk of acute coronary events: the Kuopio ischaemic heart disease risk factor study. Circulation. 2000 Nov 28;102(22):2677–2679. [PubMed]
  • Salonen JT, Seppänen K, Nyyssönen K, Korpela H, Kauhanen J, Kantola M, Tuomilehto J, Esterbauer H, Tatzber F, Salonen R. Intake of mercury from fish, lipid peroxidation, and the risk of myocardial infarction and coronary, cardiovascular, and any death in eastern Finnish men. Circulation. 1995 Feb 1;91(3):645–655. [PubMed]
  • Stajich GV, Lopez GP, Harry SW, Sexson WR. Iatrogenic exposure to mercury after hepatitis B vaccination in preterm infants. J Pediatr. 2000 May;136(5):679–681. [PubMed]
  • Swartout J, Rice G. Uncertainty analysis of the estimated ingestion rates used to derive the methylmercury reference dose. Drug Chem Toxicol. 2000 Feb;23(1):293–306. [PubMed]
  • Vahter M, Akesson A, Lind B, Björs U, Schütz A, Berglund M. Longitudinal study of methylmercury and inorganic mercury in blood and urine of pregnant and lactating women, as well as in umbilical cord blood. Environ Res. 2000 Oct;84(2):186–194. [PubMed]

Articles from Environmental Health Perspectives are provided here courtesy of National Institute of Environmental Health Science


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • Compound
    PubChem chemical compound records that cite the current articles. These references are taken from those provided on submitted PubChem chemical substance records. Multiple substance records may contribute to the PubChem compound record.
  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles
  • Substance
    PubChem chemical substance records that cite the current articles. These references are taken from those provided on submitted PubChem chemical substance records.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...