Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 80, Issue 1–4, pp 3–11 | Cite as

Exposure of Canadian aboriginal peoples to methylmercury

  • Brian Wheatley
  • Sylvain Paradis
Part I Mercury and Human Health


Aboriginal peoples living a traditional lifestyle are potentially exposed to contaminants, such as methylmercury (MeHg), which bioaccumulate in aquatic ecosystems. A preliminary analysis of testing of Canadian indigenous people for MeHg from 1970 to 1992 is outlined. By December 1992,71,842 tests of 38,571 individuals had been carried out in 514 native communities across Canada. Of these, 8,847 individuals (23%) had blood, or blood equivalent, MeHg levels greater than 20 μg/l and 608 (1.6%) had levels over 100 μg/l. Clinical examinations were offered to all with levels greater than 100 μg/l in blood, but were unable to produce a definitive diagnosis. In an attempt to ascertain fetal exposure, 2,405 umbilical cord blood samples were taken. In about half of these cases the samples were paired with maternal levels. Of the cord samples 523 (21.8%) were found to have levels greater than 20 μg/l, and the highest level was 224 μg/l. The highest maternal level found was 86 μg/l. A discussion of the assessment of risk from exposure to MeHg in this population is presented as are the initial results of the 20 year retrospective analysis including seasonal exposure patterns and trends in exposure levels. Probable future intiatives based on this analysis are noted.


Cord Blood Aquatic Ecosystem Umbilical Cord Indigenous People Definitive Diagnosis 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Wheatley
    • 1
  • Sylvain Paradis
    • 1
  1. 1.Research and Development Environmental Contaminants, Medical Services BranchHealth CanadaOttawaCanada

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