Counting the cost of mercury pollution

January 06, 2013

Cleaning up mercury pollution and reducing prenatal exposure to the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) could save the European Union €10,000 million per year, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. New estimates suggest that between 1.5 and 2 million children in the EU are born each year with MeHg exposures above the safe limit of 0.58μg/g and 200,000 above the WHO recommended maximum of 2.5μg/g.

While some mercury occurs naturally in the environment for example from volcanic eruptions or forest fires, most is generated by burning fossil fuels. Marine and fresh water species bioconcentrate MeHg; consequently the main source of exposure for humans is from eating fish.

A team of researchers from across Europe used the DEMOCOPHES study of exposure to environmental chemicals to assess the impact of MeHg on humans. Hair samples of child-mother pairs, collected from 17 European countries, demonstrated that, as a lower estimate, 1,866,000 children are born in Europe exposed to toxic levels of MeHg. 232,000 of these are exposed to hazardous levels, five times higher. But not every child in Europe is equally at risk. When analysed per country, children born in Portugal and Spain were the most exposed to MeHg, and Hungary the least.

Exposure to MeHg in humans affects brain development, resulting in a lower IQ, and consequently a lower earning potential. The long term cost to society can be calculated as lifetime earning loss per person, although this estimate does not take into account other aspects of brain toxicity or risks of cardiovascular disease in adults.

Prof Philippe Grandjean explained, "If we convert the effects of MeHg on developing brains into IQ points then the benefits of controlling MeHg pollution equates to 700,000 IQ points per year and monetary benefits of €8,000 to €9,000 million per year for the whole of the EU. Exposure abatement would mainly benefit southern Europe ."

Once MeHg is formed, it cycles though the environment for thousands of years, exposing humans and other species to potentially toxic levels for generations. Commenting on the research Dr Elsie Sunderland said, "Mitigating the harm caused by methylmercury requires global-scale cooperation on policies and source reductions. Negotiations by the United Nations Environment Program are currently underway to address mercury emission levels."
-end-
Media Contact

Dr Hilary Glover
Scientific Press Officer
BioMed Central
Mob: 44-778-698-1967

Notes

1. Economic benefits of methylmercury exposure control in Europe: Monetary value of neurotoxicity prevention
Martine Bellanger, Céline Pichery, Dominique Aerts, Marika Berglund, Argelia Castaño, Mája Čejchanová, Pierre Crettaz, Fred Davidson, Marta Esteban, Marc E. Fischer, Anca Elena Gurzau, Katarina Halzlova, Andromachi Katsonouri, Lisbeth E. Knudsen, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Gudrun Koppen, Danuta Ligocka, Ana Miklavčič, M. Fátima Reis, Peter Rudnai, Janja Snoj Tratnik, Pál Weihe, Esben Budtz-Jørgensen, Philippe Grandjean
Environmental Health (in press)

Commentary: Future trends in environmental mercury concentrations: implications for prevention strategies
Elsie M Sunderland and Noelle E Selin
Environmental Health (in press)

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request on the day of publication.

2. Environmental Health is an open access, peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to Environmental Health, and thus serves the important objective of making reliable and important scientific information widely and easily available, without charge, to readers worldwide.

3. Images are to be credited to Elsie M Sunderland and Noelle E Selin.4. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. @BioMedCentral

BioMed Central

Related Methylmercury Articles from Brightsurf:

Scientists create protein models to explore toxic methylmercury formation
A team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory created a computational model of the proteins responsible for the transformation of mercury to toxic methylmercury, marking a step forward in understanding how the reaction occurs and how mercury cycles through the environment.

Agriculture replaces fossil fuels as largest human source of sulfur to the environment
Historically, coal-fired power plants were the largest source of reactive sulfur, a component of acid rain, to the biosphere.

Dragonfly larvae collected by citizen-scientists as sentinels for mercury bioaccumulation
Various forms of mercury are released naturally by volcanoes and weathering of rocks and soil.

Cell death in porpoises caused by environmental pollutants
Environmental pollutants threaten the health of marine mammals. This study established a novel cell-based assay using the fibroblasts of a finless porpoise stranded along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, Japan, to better understand the cytotoxicity and the impacts of environmental pollutants on the porpoise population.

Human-derived mercury shown to pollute the world's deepest ocean trenches
Scientists have found that man-made mercury pollution has reached the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean -- the Marianas Trench.

Coastal fog linked to high levels of mercury found in mountain lions, study finds
Researchers at UC Santa Cruz have discovered elevated levels of mercury in mountain lions, the latest indication that the neurotoxin is being carried in fog, deposited on the land, and making its way up the food chain.

Invasive species short-circuiting benefits from mercury reduction in the Great Lakes
According to a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 40 years of reduced mercury use, emissions, and loading in the Great Lakes region have largely not produced equivalent declines in the amount of mercury accumulating in large game fish.

UNH researchers find climate change increases risk of mercury contamination
As global temperatures continue to rise, the thawing of permafrost is accelerated and mercury trapped in the frozen ground is now being released.

Climate change likely to increase human exposure to toxic methylmercury
Researchers developed a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive model that simulates how environmental factors, including increasing sea temperatures and overfishing, impact levels of methylmercury in fish.

Up to 30% of children carry a gene variant that may increase susceptibility to methylmercury
A study with 2,147 children explored the association between prenatal exposure to methylmercury, intellectual coefficient at 8 years of age, and genotype

Read More: Methylmercury News and Methylmercury Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.