Prenatal and Early Childhood Exposure to Mercury and Methylmercury in Spain, a High-Fish-Consumer Country

  • Sergi Díez
  • Sandra Delgado
  • Inmaculada Aguilera
  • Jenaro Astray
  • Beatriz Pérez-Gómez
  • Maties Torrent
  • Jordi Sunyer
  • Josep M. Bayona


Exposure to mercury, a risk factor for neurodevelopmental toxicity, was assessed in Spanish children (preschool children and newborns, n = 218) in a four-locations survey by performing mercury determination in hair. To assess the prenatal and children’s exposure and its potential risk, total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) were analyzed and examined for associations with maternal sociodemographic characteristics and dietary intake through interviews and food frequency questionnaires. The mean THg in hair was 0.94 μg/g, ranging from 0.19 to 5.63 μg/g in preschool children and 1.68 μg/g (0.13–8.43 μg/g) in newborns. Associations between mercury levels in hair and fish consumption frequency were found regardless of the group evaluated. Neither other food item nor maternal covariates were associated with mercury levels in the newborn group. In children, the mean THg values among frequent fish consumers (more than four times per week) were almost threefold higher compared with non-consumers (1.40 vs. 0.49 μg/g). Newborns from mothers who had intake of fish two or more times per week exhibited nearly threefold higher hair levels than those who rarely or never consumed fish (2.26 vs. 0.78 μg/g). Finally, mercury levels in hair exceeded the EPA reference dose (RfD) of 0.1 μg Hg/kg body weight per day (equivalent to 1 μg Hg/g hair) in 42% of the population studied. Overall, we conclude that levels of mercury in Spain are among the highest in the non-exposed populations probably because of the relatively high fish consumption.


Food Frequency Questionnaire Mercury Concentration Fish Consumption Fish Meal Mercury Level 
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Funding was obtained from the Ministry of Health (Instituto de Salud Carlos III) through the INMA Spanish network (Red INMA G03/176) and FIS-PI041436. We thank all the mothers, babies, and children who participated in the study for their generous collaboration. We also thank the gynecologists and birth attendants who collaborated in the sample collection. Sergi Díez acknowledges the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science for his Ramón y Cajal contract. Technical assistance in the GC-CVAFS setup given by Ms. Rosa Mas is kindly acknowledged. The members of the Bio-Madrid Research Group are N. Aragonés, B. Pérez-Gómez, M. Pollán, G. López-Abente (CNE-ISCIII; CIBERESP); M. Martínez, J. Astray, A. M. Pérez-Meixeira, E. Gil, C. de Paz, A. Iriso, M. Cisneros, A. de Santos, J. F. García, J. C. Sanz, A. Asensio, J. M. García-Sagredo, A. de León A (Consejeria de Sanidad, Madrid), M. Fernández, M. J. González (CSIC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sergi Díez
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sandra Delgado
    • 1
  • Inmaculada Aguilera
    • 3
  • Jenaro Astray
    • 4
  • Beatriz Pérez-Gómez
    • 5
  • Maties Torrent
    • 6
  • Jordi Sunyer
    • 3
  • Josep M. Bayona
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Chemistry DepartmentIDÆA-CSICBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Environmental Geology DepartmentICTJA-CSICBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL)Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM-Hospital del Mar)BarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Institute of Public HealthMadrid Regional Health & Consumer Affairs AuthorityMadridSpain
  5. 5.Environmental and Cancer Epidemiology Unit, National Center for Epidemiology (ISCIII)MadridSpain
  6. 6.IB-SalutMenorcaSpain

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