Indices of mercury contamination during breast feeding in the Amazon Basin

Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 1998 Oct;6(2):71-9. doi: 10.1016/s1382-6689(98)00031-3.


Mercury pollution, due to gold mining has spread through the Amazon ecosystem reaching the food chain and affecting the indigenous people of the region. We studied the mercury contamination of 47 mothers and infants and the role of breast feeding in indices of mercury body burden in both groups, by measuring hair and milk Hg levels. Total mercury concentration of breast milk ranged from 0.0 to 24.8 (5.85, 5.2 S.D.) ng/g. Calculated levels of mercury exposure of breast fed babies indicated that 53% were above tolerable daily intakes (0.5 μg/kg body weight) recommended for adults by WHO. Mercury concentration in maternal hair was higher than in hair from breast-fed babies. Correlation analysis showed that mercury hair concentration in infants was significantly affected by maternal mercury contamination during pregnancy, but not during the post-natal breast-feeding period. The mercury concentration in milk was not significantly correlated with maternal or infant's hair Hg. A statistically significant correlation was found only between maternal and infant's hair mercury concentration (r=0.675; P=0.0001).