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Biochemistry - Public Health and Epidemiology - Science Policy - Women's Health


Evaluation of a Public Health Intervention to Lower Mercury Exposure from Fish Consumption in Bermuda
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Author: Eric Dewailly et al.

by Eric Dewailly, Philippe Rouja, Martin Forde, Cheryl Peek-Ball, Suzanne Côté, Emma Smith, Olivia Drescher, Lyndon Robertson

Objectives

To assess the efficacy of a public health intervention to reduce blood mercury (Hg) concentration levels in pregnant Bermudian women.

Methods

In 2003, we conducted a study entitled “Prenatal exposure of the Bermudian Population to Environmental Contaminants” which provided Bermuda’s first baseline data on prenatal exposure to several environmental contaminants, including Hg. The mean Hg concentration from 42 healthy newborns measured in umbilical cord blood was 41.3 nmol/L, ranging from 5–160 nmol/L. This concentration was much higher than expected, being approximately 8 times the general levels found in Canada and the U.S. Furthermore, we estimated that 85% of total Hg measured was in the form of methylmercury (MeHg), indicating that seafood consumption was the primary source of Hg exposure during pregnancy in Bermuda. Locally sourced seafood was identified as the most significant possible contributory source of Hg exposure. In 2005 the authors began a complementary research programme to study the levels of Hg in local commercial fish species. Coming out of this research were specific local fish consumption guidelines issued by the Department of Health advising pregnant women to avoid those local fish species found to be high in Hg while still encouraging consumption of fish species having lower Hg levels.

Results

In 2010, under another research initiative, we returned to Bermuda to carry out another evaluation of Hg in human blood. Hg was measured in the blood of 49 pregnant women. The arithmetic mean Hg blood concentration was 6.6 nmol/L and the geometric mean 4.2 nmol/L. The maximum concentration found was 24 nmol/L.

Conclusions

Hg exposure of Bermudian pregnant women has dropped significantly by a factor of around 5 since the foetal cord blood study in 2003.

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