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Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2012;29(12):1913-21. doi: 10.1080/19440049.2012.719644. Epub 2012 Sep 10.

Human exposure to lead, cadmium and mercury through fish and seafood product consumption in Italy: a pilot evaluation.

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National Reference Laboratory for Heavy Metals in Food, Department of Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.


The presence of selected toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg), was investigated in fish and seafood products, namely, blue mussel, carpet shell clam, European squid, veined squid, deep-water rose shrimp, red mullet, European seabass, gilthead seabream, Atlantic cod, European hake, Atlantic bluefin tuna and swordfish so as to assess their human exposure through diet. Metals were detected by quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (Q-ICP-MS) and hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry (Hg-AAS). Measurements of Cd, Pb and Hg were performed by means of analytical methods validated in compliance with UNI CEI EN ISO/IEC 17025 [2005. General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. Milano (Italy): UNI Ente Nazionale Italiano di Unificazione]. The exposure assessment was undertaken matching the levels of Cd, Pb and total Hg with consumption data related to fish and seafood products selected for this purpose. In order to establish human health implications, the estimated weekly intakes (EWIs) for Cd, Pb and Hg were compared with the standard tolerable weekly intakes (TWI) for Cd and provisional tolerable weekly intakes (PTWIs) for Pb and Hg stipulated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). The found metal concentrations were largely below the maximum levels (MLs) established at the European Union level with the exception of Cd. This metal exceeded the MLs in squid, red mullet, European hake and Atlantic cod. Squid and blue mussel showed the highest Pb concentrations which accounted for 60% and 10% of the MLs, respectively. Highest Hg levels were found in predatory fish. The concentrations of Hg in swordfish, Atlantic bluefin tuna and red mullet accounted for 50%, 30% and 30% of the MLs, respectively. The EWIs for Cd, Pb and Hg related to the consumption of fish and seafood products by the median of the Italian total population accounted for 20%, 1.5% and 10% of the standard TWI for Cd as well as PTWIs for Pb and Hg, respectively. Furthermore, the EWIs estimated using consumption data concerning Italian consumers did not exceed the standard TWI and PTWIs, except for Cd at 95th percentile.

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