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Low dose mercury toxicity and human health

Post Minamata incident there has been awareness about mercury toxicity even among the general public. Previous researches contributed a vast amount of data regarding acute mercury exposure, but gradually information about the low dose [Ninomiya, T., Ohmori, H., Hashimoto, K., Tsuruta, K., Ekino, S., 1995. Expansion of methylmercury poisoning outside minamata: an epidemiological study on chronic methylmercury poisoninig outside of Minamata. Environ. Res. 70 (1) 47–50; Lebel, J., Mergler, D., Lucotte, M., Amorim, M., Dolbec, J., Miranda, D., Arantes, G., Rheault, I., Pichet, P., 1996. Evidence of early nervous system dysfunction in Amazonian populations exposed to low-levels of methylmercury. Neurotoxicology 17 (1) 157–167] of mercury toxicity has been trickling in. With mercury contaminating rain-, ground- and sea-water no one is safe. Polluted water leads to mercury laced fish, meat and vegetable. In aquatic environments, inorganic mercury is microbiologically transformed into lipophilic organic compound ‘methylmercury’.

This transformation makes mercury more prone to biomagnification in food chains. Consequently, populations with traditionally high dietary intake of food originating from fresh or marine environment have highest dietary exposure to mercury. Extensive research done on locals across the globe have already established this, persons who routinely consume fish or a particular species of fish are at an increased risk of methylmercury poisoning. The easy access of the toxicant to man through multiple pathways air, water, food, cosmetic products and even vaccines increase the exposure. Foetus and children are more susceptible towards mercury toxicity. Mothers consuming diet containing mercury pass the toxicant to foetus and to infants through breast milk. Decreased performance in areas of motor function and memory has been reported among children exposed to presumably safe mercury levels. Similarly, disruption of attention, fine motor function and verbal memory was also found in adults on exposure to low mercury levels. It is an occupational hazard for dental staff, chloralkali factory workers and goldminers, etc. Mercury has been found to be a causative agent of various sorts of disorders, including neurological, nephrological, immunological, cardiac, motor, reproductive and even genetic. Recently heavy metal mediated toxicity has been linked to diseases like Alzeihemer's, Parkinson's, Autism, Lupus, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, etc. Besides this, it poses danger to wildlife. Therefore, it becomes imperative to spread the information regarding the threat of mercury exposure amongst the scientists and masses.

Published on 05-11-2009
Authors: Farhana Zahira, Shamim J. Rizwia, Soghra K. Haqb and Rizwan H. Khan
Source: Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology Volume 20, Issue 2, September 2005, Pages 351-360