High mercury levels in hair samples from residents of Taiji, a Japanese whaling town

Mar Pollut Bull. 2010 May;60(5):743-7. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.11.020. Epub 2009 Dec 31.


We investigated the mercury concentrations in red meat from pilot whales consumed by some residents of the Japanese whaling town, Taiji, and in hair samples from 50 residents for their maker of mercury burden. The methyl mercury (M-Hg) level in the red meat was 5.9 microg/wet g, markedly higher than the US FDA action level and Cordex Alimentarius guideline level for predatory fish (1.0 microg/wet g). The average level of total mercury (T-Hg) in the hair from residents who ate whale meat more than once a month was 24.6 microg/g, whereas the average from the residents who did not consume any whale meat was 4.3 microg/g. The T-Hg concentrations in the hair from three donors exceeded 50 microg/g, the level for NOAEL set by WHO. The T-Hg level found in the Taiji whale meat consumers was markedly higher than that observed in the Japanese population overall (about 2 microg/g).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Asian People
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cities
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Seafood / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Whales*
  • Young Adult


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury