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Environ Health Perspect. 1991 Dec;96:159-66.

Mercury and monomethylmercury: present and future concerns.

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Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut, Groton 06340.


Global atmospheric changes carry the potential to disrupt the normal cycling of mercury and its compounds. Acid rain may increase methylmercury levels in freshwater fish. Global warming and increased ultraviolet radiation may affect the global budget of methylmercury, including its formation and degradation in both biotic and abiotic environments. In this article we review current knowledge on mercury and monomethylmercury with regard to their environmental fate and the potential for human health effects. Recent findings indicate that atmospheric Hg deposition readily accounts for the total mass of Hg in fish, water, and sediment of Little Rock Lake, a representative temperate seepage lake in north-central Wisconsin. It is strikingly evident that modest increases in atmospheric Hg loading could lead directly to elevated levels in the fish stock. It is doubtful, given the experimental limitations in many recent studies, that the temporal pattern for Hg emissions, for background atmospheric Hg concentrations, and for changes in Hg depositional fluxes has been identified. Thus, the present and future questions of whether the environmental impact is of local, regional, or hemispheric significance remain. Contemporary investigations must address these important questions. Human exposure to methylmercury in the United States is probably increasing due to increased consumption of fish and fish products. A recent epidemiological investigation indicates high susceptibility to brain damage during prenatal exposures to Hg. An important objective for future investigation is to establish the lowest effect level for human exposure to methylmercury.

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