Mercury in seafood: mechanisms of accumulation and consequences for consumer health

Rev Environ Health. 2007 Apr-Jun;22(2):91-113. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2007.22.2.91.


Mercury is a largely uncontrollable heavy metal contaminant in that it is globally ubiquitous, and environmentally persistent. The element has the potential for global mobilization following liberation from environmental stores, which can occur as a consequence of either anthropogenic activities or natural processes. Furthermore, organic forms like methylmercury accumulate in biological tissues with an exceptionally long biological half-life, facilitating the magnification of this toxin along trophic food chains. Bioaccumulation is particularly evident in aquatic environments, in which long-lived piscivorous fishes and marine mammals are reported with a mercury burden one-million times that of the surrounding water body, typically attaining mercury burdens exceeding 1 microg g(-1). Mercury levels in other seafood, however, are typically reported in the range of 0.1 to 0.2 microg g(-1) and usually less then 0.5 microg g(-1). The primary source of human exposure to environmental mercury is through seafood consumption. The dangers associated with the consumption of large amounts of methylmercury accumulated in seafood are well recognized from past poisoning incidents, in which fish with mercury burdens in the range of 9 to 24 microg g(-1) were consumed. Nevertheless, the toxicological consequence of chronic low-level mercury exposure from habitual seafood consumption is an area of contention. This review discusses the mechanisms of mercury accumulation and distribution in fish tissues and the toxicological consequences of mercury exposure from seafood consumption with regard to international safety guidelines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fishes / classification
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / toxicity
  • Mercury Poisoning*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity
  • Seafood / analysis*
  • Seafood / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury