Sources of mercury exposure for U.S. seafood consumers: implications for policy

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jan;118(1):137-43. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900811.


Background: Recent policies attempting to reduce adverse effects of methylmercury exposure from fish consumption in the United States have targeted reductions in anthropogenic emissions from U.S. sources.

Objectives: To analyze the prospects for future North American and international emissions controls, we assessed the potential contributions of anthropogenic, historical, and natural mercury to exposure trajectories in the U.S. population over a 40-year time horizon.

Methods: We used models that simulate global atmospheric chemistry (GEOS-Chem); the fate, transport, and bioaccumulation of mercury in four types of freshwater ecosystems; and mercury cycling among different ocean basins. We considered effects on mercury exposures in the U.S. population based on dietary survey information and consumption data from the sale of commercial market fish.

Results: Although North American emissions controls may reduce mercury exposure by up to 50% for certain highly exposed groups such as indigenous peoples in the Northeast, the potential effects of emissions controls on populations consuming marine fish from the commercial market are less certain because of limited measurements.

Conclusions: Despite uncertainties in the exposure pathway, results indicate that a combination of North American and international emissions controls with adaptation strategies is necessary to manage methylmercury risks across various demographic groups in the United States.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • Fresh Water / analysis
  • Humans
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / toxicity
  • Models, Biological
  • Public Policy
  • Seafood / analysis
  • Seafood / toxicity*
  • United States
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Air Pollutants
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury