Hair Mercury and Urinary Cadmium Levels in Belgian Children and Their Mothers Within the Framework of the COPHES/DEMOCOPHES Projects

Sci Total Environ. 2014 Feb 15;472:730-40. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.028. Epub 2013 Dec 10.


A harmonized human biomonitoring pilot study was set up within the frame of the European projects DEMOCOPHES and COPHES. In 17 European countries, biomarkers of some environmental pollutants, including urinary cadmium and hair mercury, were measured in children and their mothers in order to obtain European-wide comparison values on these chemicals. The Belgian participant population consisted in 129 school children (6-11 years) and their mothers (≤ 45 years) living in urban or rural areas of Belgium. The geometric mean levels for mercury in hair were 0.383 μg/g and 0.204 μg/g for respectively mothers and children. Cadmium in mother's and children's urine was detected at a geometric mean concentration of respectively 0.21 and 0.04 μg/l. For both biomarkers, levels measured in the mothers and their child were correlated. While the urinary cadmium levels increased with age, no trend was found for hair mercury content, except the fact that mothers hold higher levels than children. The hair mercury content increased significantly with the number of dental amalgam fillings, explaining partially the higher levels in the mothers by their higher presence rate of these amalgams compared to children. Fish or seafood consumption was the other main parameter determining the mercury levels in hair. No relationship was found between smoking status and cadmium or mercury levels, but the studied population included very few smokers. Urinary cadmium levels were higher in both mothers and children living in urban areas, while for mercury this difference was only significant for children. Our small population showed urinary cadmium and hair mercury levels lower than the health based guidelines suggested by the WHO or the JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives). Only 1% had cadmium level slightly higher than the German HBM-I value (1 μg/l for adults), and 9% exceeded the 1 μg mercury/g hair suggested by the US EPA.

Keywords: Cadmium; Europe; Hair; Human biomonitoring; Mercury; Urine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Belgium
  • Cadmium / urine*
  • Child
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Female
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mercury / metabolism*
  • Seafood / statistics & numerical data


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury