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Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Apr;49(4):923-32. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2010.12.016. Epub 2010 Dec 28.

Mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic levels in three pelagic fish species from the Atlantic Ocean: intra- and inter-specific variability and human health risks for consumption.

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REQUIMTE, Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Rua Dr António Bernardino de Almeida 431, 4200-072 Porto, Portugal.


Three commonly consumed and commercially valuable fish species (sardine, chub and horse mackerel) were collected from the Northeast and Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean in Portuguese waters during one year. Mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic amounts were determined in muscles using graphite furnace and cold vapour atomic absorption spectrometry. Maximum mean levels of mercury (0.1715 ± 0.0857 mg/kg, ww) and arsenic (1.139 ± 0.350 mg/kg, ww) were detected in horse mackerel. The higher mean amounts of cadmium (0.0084 ± 0.0036 mg/kg, ww) and lead (0.0379 ± 0.0303 mg/kg, ww) were determined in chub mackerel and in sardine, respectively. Intra- and inter-specific variability of metals bioaccumulation was statistically assessed and species and length revealed to be the major influencing biometric factors, in particular for mercury and arsenic. Muscles present metal concentrations below the tolerable limits considered by European Commission Regulation and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO). However, estimation of non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic health risks by the target hazard quotient and target carcinogenic risk, established by the US Environmental Protection Agency, suggests that these species must be eaten in moderation due to possible hazard and carcinogenic risks derived from arsenic (in all analyzed species) and mercury ingestion (in horse and chub mackerel species).

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