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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2012 Nov;31(11):2431-44. doi: 10.1002/etc.1980. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

Environmental mercury in China: a review.

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Norwegian Institute for Water Research, Oslo, Norway.


Mercury is a global pollutant that can be transported over long distances and can bioaccumulate. Currently, China is the country that contributes most to atmospheric Hg emissions and has the greatest intentional (industrial) use of Hg. Mercury in the Chinese environment is generally elevated, particularly in air and water bodies. Remote areas in China also show elevated Hg levels in air and water bodies compared to other rural regions in the world. Large river estuaries are often heavily affected by upstream industrial sources. Mercury is also elevated in sediments, a direct result of contamination in river systems. Regardless of the few heavily polluted sites, the urban environment in Chinese cities is comparable to that of other megacities in terms of Hg pollution, considering the size and rapid development of Chinese cities. Studies on Hg in fish showed generally low levels of contamination resulting from low bioaccumulation of Hg in the mostly short food chains. Mercury in rice has recently received increased research interest; elevated concentrations have been reported from rice grown in contaminated areas and may pose a threat to people dependent on such locally grown food. For the general population, Hg exposure from rice is, however, small. In addition, Hg hair concentration in the Chinese population showed generally low levels of exposure to Hg, except for people with special occupational exposure.

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