• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information
Logo of pubhealthrepLink to Publisher's site
Public Health Rep. 1999 Sep-Oct; 114(5): 396-9, 402-13.
PMCID: PMC1308510

Methylmercury: a new look at the risks.

Abstract

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.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (8.1M), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Images in this article

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Aberg B, Ekman L, Falk R, Greitz U, Persson G, Snihs JO. Metabolism of methyl mercury (203Hg) compounds in man. Arch Environ Health. 1969 Oct;19(4):478–484. [PubMed]
  • Bakir F, Damluji SF, Amin-Zaki L, Murtadha M, Khalidi A, al-Rawi NY, Tikriti S, Dahahir HI, Clarkson TW, Smith JC, et al. Methylmercury poisoning in Iraq. Science. 1973 Jul 20;181(4096):230–241. [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]
  • Wobeser G, Nielsen NO, Schiefer B. Mercury and Mink. II. Experimental methyl mercury intoxication. Can J Comp Med. 1976 Jan;40(1):34–45. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Lebel J, Mergler D, Branches F, Lucotte M, Amorim M, Larribe F, Dolbec J. Neurotoxic effects of low-level methylmercury contamination in the Amazonian Basin. Environ Res. 1998 Oct;79(1):20–32. [PubMed]
  • Sørensen N, Murata K, Budtz-Jørgensen E, Weihe P, Grandjean P. Prenatal methylmercury exposure as a cardiovascular risk factor at seven years of age. Epidemiology. 1999 Jul;10(4):370–375. [PubMed]
  • Airey D. Mercury in human hair due to environment and diet: a review. Environ Health Perspect. 1983 Oct;52:303–316. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Smith JC, Allen PV, Von Burg R. Hair methylmercury levels in U.S. women. Arch Environ Health. 1997 Nov-Dec;52(6):476–480. [PubMed]
  • Knobeloch LM, Ziarnik M, Anderson HA, Dodson VN. Imported seabass as a source of mercury exposure: a Wisconsin case study. Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Jun;103(6):604–606. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mahaffey KR, Annest JL, Roberts J, Murphy RS. National estimates of blood lead levels: United States, 1976-1980: association with selected demographic and socioeconomic factors. N Engl J Med. 1982 Sep 2;307(10):573–579. [PubMed]
  • Needleman HL, Gunnoe C, Leviton A, Reed R, Peresie H, Maher C, Barrett P. Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of children with elevated dentine lead levels. N Engl J Med. 1979 Mar 29;300(13):689–695. [PubMed]
  • Dietrich KN, Berger OG, Succop PA, Hammond PB, Bornschein RL. The developmental consequences of low to moderate prenatal and postnatal lead exposure: intellectual attainment in the Cincinnati Lead Study Cohort following school entry. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1993 Jan-Feb;15(1):37–44. [PubMed]
  • Tong S, Baghurst P, McMichael A, Sawyer M, Mudge J. Lifetime exposure to environmental lead and children's intelligence at 11-13 years: the Port Pirie cohort study. BMJ. 1996 Jun 22;312(7046):1569–1575. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Wasserman GA, Liu X, Lolacono NJ, Factor-Litvak P, Kline JK, Popovac D, Morina N, Musabegovic A, Vrenezi N, Capuni-Paracka S, et al. Lead exposure and intelligence in 7-year-old children: the Yugoslavia Prospective Study. Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Sep;105(9):956–962. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Needleman HL, Schell A, Bellinger D, Leviton A, Allred EN. The long-term effects of exposure to low doses of lead in childhood. An 11-year follow-up report. N Engl J Med. 1990 Jan 11;322(2):83–88. [PubMed]
  • Burns JM, Baghurst PA, Sawyer MG, McMichael AJ, Tong SL. Lifetime low-level exposure to environmental lead and children's emotional and behavioral development at ages 11-13 years. The Port Pirie Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1999 Apr 15;149(8):740–749. [PubMed]
  • Marsh DO, Clarkson TW, Cox C, Myers GJ, Amin-Zaki L, Al-Tikriti S. Fetal methylmercury poisoning. Relationship between concentration in single strands of maternal hair and child effects. Arch Neurol. 1987 Oct;44(10):1017–1022. [PubMed]
  • McKeown-Eyssen GE, Ruedy J, Neims A. Methyl mercury exposure in northern Quebec. II. Neurologic findings in children. Am J Epidemiol. 1983 Oct;118(4):470–479. [PubMed]
  • Grandjean P, White RF, Nielsen A, Cleary D, de Oliveira Santos EC. Methylmercury neurotoxicity in Amazonian children downstream from gold mining. Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Jul;107(7):587–591. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Murata K, Weihe P, Renzoni A, Debes F, Vasconcelos R, Zino F, Araki S, Jørgensen PJ, White RF, Grandjean P. Delayed evoked potentials in children exposed to methylmercury from seafood. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1999 Jul-Aug;21(4):343–348. [PubMed]
  • Davidson PW, Myers GJ, Cox C, Axtell C, Shamlaye C, Sloane-Reeves J, Cernichiari E, Needham L, Choi A, Wang Y, et al. Effects of prenatal and postnatal methylmercury exposure from fish consumption on neurodevelopment: outcomes at 66 months of age in the Seychelles Child Development Study. JAMA. 1998 Aug 26;280(8):701–707. [PubMed]
  • Grandjean P, Weihe P, White RF, Debes F, Araki S, Yokoyama K, Murata K, Sørensen N, Dahl R, Jørgensen PJ. Cognitive deficit in 7-year-old children with prenatal exposure to methylmercury. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1997 Nov-Dec;19(6):417–428. [PubMed]
  • Doi R, Tagawa M, Tanaka H, Nakaya K. Hereditary analysis of the strain difference of methylmercury distribution in mice. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1983 Jul;69(3):400–406. [PubMed]
  • Yasutake A, Hirayama K. Sex and strain differences of susceptibility to methylmercury toxicity in mice. Toxicology. 1988 Sep;51(1):47–55. [PubMed]
  • Nielsen JB. Toxicokinetics of mercuric chloride and methylmercuric chloride in mice. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1992 Sep;37(1):85–122. [PubMed]
  • Nielsen JB, Hultman P. Experimental studies on genetically determined susceptibility to mercury-induced autoimmune response. Ren Fail. 1999 May-Jul;21(3-4):343–348. [PubMed]
  • Nobmann ED, Byers T, Lanier AP, Hankin JH, Jackson MY. The diet of Alaska Native adults: 1987-1988. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 May;55(5):1024–1032. [PubMed]
  • Peterson DE, Kanarek MS, Kuykendall MA, Diedrich JM, Anderson HA, Remington PL, Sheffy TB. Fish consumption patterns and blood mercury levels in Wisconsin Chippewa Indians. Arch Environ Health. 1994 Jan-Feb;49(1):53–58. [PubMed]
  • Tollefson L, Cordle F. Methylmercury in fish: a review of residue levels, fish consumption and regulatory action in the United States. Environ Health Perspect. 1986 Sep;68:203–208. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Kershaw TG, Clarkson TW, Dhahir PH. The relationship between blood levels and dose of methylmercury in man. Arch Environ Health. 1980 Jan-Feb;35(1):28–36. [PubMed]
  • Sherlock J, Hislop J, Newton D, Topping G, Whittle K. Elevation of mercury in human blood from controlled chronic ingestion of methylmercury in fish. Hum Toxicol. 1984 Apr;3(2):117–131. [PubMed]
  • Harada M. Minamata disease: methylmercury poisoning in Japan caused by environmental pollution. Crit Rev Toxicol. 1995;25(1):1–24. [PubMed]

Articles from Public Health Reports are provided here courtesy of Association of Schools of Public Health

Formats:

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...

Links

  • Cited in Books
    Cited in Books
    PubMed Central articles cited in books
  • MedGen
    MedGen
    Related information in MedGen
  • PubMed
    PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles
  • Substance
    Substance
    PubChem Substance links

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...