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Environ Res. 2010 Jan;110(1):123-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2009.10.001.

Hair mercury concentration and fish consumption: risk and perceptions of risk among women of childbearing age.

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School of Public Health, Taipei Medical University, 250, Wu-Hsing Street, Taipei 110, Taiwan.


The purposes of this study were to assess the hair mercury concentration of women of childbearing age in Taiwan, and to calculate a hazard quotient (HQ) to evaluate the risk of fish consumption for these women. We also examined perceptions of risk associated with fish consumption and whether women in our study changed their habits in response to such risks. The average concentration of mercury was 1.73+/-2.12microgg(-1) (range: 0.02-16.34microgg(-1)), exceeding the US EPA reference dose of 1microgg(-1) in 52.9% of study subjects. The WHO tolerance limit of 10microgg(-1) was exceeded in 1.5% of study subjects. Hair mercury concentration in groups who consumed fish was significantly higher than in groups who never consumed fish (p<0.05). The hazard quotient (exposure estimate/oral reference dose) exceeded 1.0 for 29% of subjects, based on the US EPA's reference dose (0.1microgkg(-1)d(-1)), and the average HQ equaled 1.26. When told that some fish contain high levels of mercury that may be harmful for unborn babies, 67.6% of women still indicated that they would not change their amount of fish intake. The high hair mercury concentrations among women of childbearing age in Taiwan are a cause for concern, due to the effect on babies' brain development. The government should provide specific information about risks and benefits of fish consumption for women to make risk-balancing decisions.

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