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Public Health Rep. 1999 Sep-Oct; 114(5): 396-9, 402-13.
PMCID: PMC1308510

Methylmercury: a new look at the risks.


In the US, exposure to methylmercury, a neurotoxin, occurs primarily through consumption of fish. Data from recent studies assessing the health impact of methylmercury exposure due to consumption of fish and other sources in the aquatic food web (shellfish, crustacea, and marine mammals) suggest adverse effects at levels previously considered safe. There is substantial variation in human methylmercury exposure based on differences in the frequency and amount of fish consumed and in the fish's mercury concentration. Although virtually all fish and other seafood contain at least trace amounts of methylmercury, large predatory fish species have the highest concentrations. Concerns have been expressed about mercury exposure levels in the US, particularly among sensitive populations, and discussions are underway about the standards used by various federal agencies to protect the public. In the 1997 Mercury Study Report to Congress, the US Environmental Protection Agency summarized the current state of knowledge on methylmercury's effects on the health of humans and wildlife; sources of mercury; and how mercury is distributed in the environment. This article summarizes some of the major findings in the Report to Congress and identifies issues of concern to the public health community.

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Selected References

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