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Environ Res. 2007 Nov;105(3):390-9. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Prenatal exposure to mercury and neurobehavioral development of neonates in Zhoushan City, China.

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XinHua Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai Institute for Pediatric Research, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Children's Environmental Health, Shanghai 200092, China.


Exposure to hazardous Hg can adversely affect children's neurodevelopment. However, few data are available on either Hg levels in neonates and their mothers or the impact of prenatal exposure to Hg on neonates' neurobehavioral development in the Chinese population. Therefore, this study examined Hg levels in neonates and their mothers and the relationship between prenatal exposure to Hg and neonates' neurobehavioral development in Zhoushan City, Zhejiang Province, China. Between August and October 2004, 417 women who delivered their babies at Zhoushan Women's and Children's Health Hospital, an island city in east China were invited to take part in this study. A total of 408 complete questionnaires, 405 maternal hair samples, and 406 umbilical cord samples were collected. Neonatal behavioral neurological assessments (NBNA) were conducted for 384 neonates. The geometric mean (GM) of Hg level in cord blood was 5.58 microg/L (interquartile range: 3.96-7.82 microg/L), and the GM of maternal hair Hg level was 1246.56 microg/kg (interquartile range: 927.34-1684.67 microg/kg), a level much lower than other reported fish-eating populations, indicating Hg exposure in Zhoushan city is generally below those considered hazardous. However, according to the reference dose of Hg levels (RfD 5.8 microg/L) derived by EPA, 69.9% of newborns had levels at or above the RfD, an estimated level assumed to be without appreciable harm. There was a strong correlation between maternal hair and cord blood Hg levels (r = 0.82, P < 0.01). Frequency of fish consumption was associated with hair Hg (r = 0.48, P < 0.01) and cord blood Hg levels (r = 0.54, P < 0.01). Increased prenatal Hg exposure was associated with decreased behavioral ability for males (OR = 1.235, 95%CI of OR = 1.078-1.414, P < 0.001), but not for females. Our results provide some support for the hypothesis that there is neurodevelopmental risk for males from prenatal MeHg exposure resulting from fish consumption. But the findings of this study may be due to chance, and long-term follow-up research is needed to evaluate cumulative effects of exposure to mercury.

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