, Volume 140, Issue 3, pp 262-271

Automated Speciation of Mercury in the Hair of Breastfed Infants Exposed to Ethylmercury from Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines

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A simplified thiourea-based chromatography method, originally developed for methyl and inorganic mercury, was adapted to separate methylmercury (MeHg), ethylmercury (EtHg), and inorganic mercury (HgII) in infants' hair. Samples were weighed and leached with an acidic thiourea solution. Leachates were concentrated on a polymeric resin prior to analysis by Hg-thiourea liquid chromatography/cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry. All but one sample showed small amounts of EtHg, and four of the six analyzed samples had proportionally higher HgII as a percent of total Hg. Breastfed infants from riverine Amazonian communities are exposed to mercury in breast milk (from high levels of maternal sources that include both fish consumption and dental amalgam) and to EtHg in vaccines (from thimerosal). The method proved sensitive enough to detect and quantify acute EtHg exposure after shots of thimerosal-containing vaccines. Based on work with MeHg and HgII, estimated detection limits for this method are 0.050, 0.10, and 0.10 ng g−1 for MeHg, HgII, and EtHg, respectively, for a 20-mg sample. Specific limits depend on the amount of sample extracted and the amount of extract injected.