Hair Mercury Speciation as a Function of Gender, Age, and Body Mass Index in Inhabitants of the Negro River Basin, Amazon, Brazil

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Abstract

Human mercury contamination can be monitored through hair analysis of mercury's inorganic and organic form as methylmercury (Me-Hg). Hair total mercury and Me-Hg were studied in a Negro River fish-eating population in relation to age, gender, and body mass index (BMI). This riverbank population eats fish at least twice a day and is exposed to high levels of Me-Hg. Total mercury ranged from 1.51 μg/g to 59.01 μg/g, with only 21% of the sampled population having Hg concentration of less than 10 μg/g hair. The mean percentage of Me-Hg was 71.3% (range 34% to 100%) of the total mercury in hair. No statistically significant differences were found in regard to age groups (children and adults) or BMI. However, women had significantly lower total mercury in hair than men, but the percentage of Me-Hg was not significantly different. Women in fertile age (15–40 years) had hair total mercury ranging from 1.65–32.63 μg/g, and 65% in this subgroup had hair mercury above 10 μg/g hair. The percentage of Me-Hg concentration in hair of this freshwater, fish–eating population is comparable to populations eating ocean fish from different parts of the world and does not seem to be affected by age, gender, and BMI.

Received: 8 July 2000/Accepted: 8 November 2000