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Environ Res. 1998 May;77(2):98-103.

Methylmercury dose estimation from umbilical cord concentrations in patients with Minamata disease.

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  • 1National Institute for Minamata Disease, Minamata, Kumamoto, Japan.


The methylmercury exposure of patients with congenital or infantile Minamata disease is known only from a small number of analyses of umbilical cords. Four laboratories in Japan have analyzed a total of 176 samples of umbilical cord tissue obtained from Minamata. The highest concentrations were seen in cord tissue from children born during 1950-1965, i.e., the peak period of acetaldehyde production in Minamata before installation of waste water treatment. Twenty-four samples from patients diagnosed with Minamata disease showed a median mercury concentration of 1.63 microg/g and differed significantly from levels seen in cord tissue from control children. However, children diagnosed with mental retardation had mercury concentrations in cord that were intermediate between the two other groups. Using regression coefficients obtained at a study conducted at the Faroe Islands, the median cord mercury concentration from the children with Minamata disease is estimated to correspond to about 216 microg/L cord blood and 41 microg/g in maternal hair. Based on correlations reported in the literature, the median daily mercury intake of the women whose children developed Minamata disease can then be estimated at about 225 microg. Although these children had fully developed Minamata disease, the estimates of median mercury levels are only four to five times higher than current mercury exposure limits.

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