A state-of-the-science review of mercury biomarkers in human populations Worldwide between 2000 and 2018

Niladri Basu, Milena Horvat, David C. Evers, Irina Zastenskaya, Pál Weihe, Joanna Tempowski

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

150 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: The Minamata Convention on Mercury provided a mandate for action against global mercury pollution. However, our knowledge of mercury exposures is limited because there are many regions and subpopulations with little or no data.

OBJECTIVE: We aimed to increase worldwide understanding of human exposures to mercury by collecting, collating, and analyzing mercury concentrations in biomarker samples reported in the published scientific literature.

METHOD: A systematic search of the peer-reviewed scientific literature was performed using three databases. A priori search strategy, eligibility criteria, and data extraction steps were used to identify relevant studies.

RESULTS: We collected 424,858 mercury biomarker measurements from 335,991 individuals represented in 312 articles from 75 countries. General background populations with insignificant exposures have blood, hair, and urine mercury levels that generally fall under 5 lg/L, 2 lg/g, and 3 lg/L, respectively. We identified four populations of concern: a) Arctic populations who consume fish and marine mammals; b) tropical riverine communities (especially Amazonian) who consume fish and in some cases may be exposed to mining; c) coastal and/or small-island communities who substantially depend on seafood; and d) individuals who either work or reside among artisanal and small-scale gold mining sites.

CONCLUSIONS: This review suggests that all populations worldwide are exposed to some amount of mercury and that there is great variability in exposures within and across countries and regions. There remain many geographic regions and subpopulations with limited data, thus hindering evidence-based decision making. This type of information is critical in helping understand exposures, particularly in light of certain stipulations in the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Mercury
  • Biomarkers
  • Human populations
  • Worldwide


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