Blood organic mercury and dietary mercury intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Apr;112(5):562-70. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6587.


Blood organic mercury (i.e., methyl mercury) concentrations among 1,709 women who were participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1999 and 2000 (1999-2000 NHANES) were 0.6 microg/L at the 50th percentile and ranged from concentrations that were nondetectable (5th percentile) to 6.7 microg/L (95th percentile). Blood organic/methyl mercury reflects methyl mercury intake from fish and shellfish as determined from a methyl mercury exposure parameter based on 24-hr dietary recall, 30-day food frequency, and mean concentrations of mercury in the fish/shellfish species reported as consumed (multiple correlation coefficient > 0.5). Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations were lowest among Mexican Americans and highest among participants who designated themselves in the Other racial/ethnic category, which includes Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations were ~1.5 times higher among women 30-49 years of age than among women 16-29 years of age. Blood mercury (BHg) concentrations were seven times higher among women who reported eating nine or more fish and/or shellfish meals within the past 30 days than among women who reported no fish and/or shellfish consumption in the past 30 days. Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations greater than or equal to 5.8 microg/L were lowest among Mexican Americans (2.0%) and highest among examinees in the Other racial/ethnic category (21.7%). Based on the distribution of BHg concentrations among the adult female participants in 1999-2000 NHANES and the number of U.S. births in 2000, > 300,000 newborns each year in the United States may have been exposed in utero to methyl mercury concentrations higher than those considered to be without increased risk of adverse neurodevelopmental effects associated with methyl mercury exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Mercury* / blood
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Organomercury Compounds / analysis
  • Organomercury Compounds / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Seafood / analysis
  • United States


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Organomercury Compounds
  • Mercury