Human mercury exposure and effects in Europe



The effects of human exposure to mercury (Hg) and its compounds in Europe have been the focus of numerous studies that differed in their design, including recruiting different population groups at different levels of exposure and using different protocols and recruitment strategies. The objective of the present study was to review current studies of Hg exposure in Europe, taking into account the potential routes of Hg exposure, actual Hg exposure levels assessed by different biomarkers, and the effects of Hg to Europeans. All published studies from 2000 onward were reviewed, and exposure and effects studies were compared with known Hg levels in environmental compartments by mapping the various population groups studied and taking into account known sources of Hg. A study of the spatial distribution trends confirmed that the highest exposure levels to Hg, mostly as methylmercury (MeHg), are found in coastal populations, which consume more fish than inland populations. Fewer studies addressed exposure to elemental Hg through inhalation of Hg in air and inorganic Hg in food, particularly in highly contaminated areas. Overall, at the currently low exposure levels of Hg prevalently found in Europe, further studies are needed to confirm the risk to European populations, taking into consideration exposure to various Hg compounds and mixtures of stressors with similar end-points, nutritional status, and a detailed understanding of Hg in fish present in European markets. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:1259–1270. © 2013 SETAC