High costs of mercury damage

Cleaning up mercury pollution and reducing prenatal exposure to methylmercury could save the European Union at least €9 billion per year, according to a new study published in the Environmental Health journal.

The researchers point out that if sensitivity analyses are based on a logarithmic response curve, the estimated benefits would be four times higher. In addition, benefits might be underestimated because costs linked to all aspects of neurotoxicity and long-term disease risks were not considered.

After being emitted, mercury can be converted to methylmercury (MeHg), a potent neurotoxin that bioaccumulates and enters the human body readily via the dietary route. Unborn children (i.e., foetuses) are the most susceptible population group, the exposure being mainly from fish in the diet of the mother. Pre-natal exposure is said to be of particular concern because even very small amounts of methylmercury can cause irreversible health effects in a developing brain, resulting in a lower IQ.

It is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million children in the EU are born each year with methylmercury exposures above the safe limit of 0.58 µg/g and 200,000 above the WHO recommended maximum of 2.5 µg/g. But not every child in Europe is equally at risk. Mercury levels are lowest in Eastern Europe and highest in Southern Europe.

Article in Environmental Health: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/12/1/3/abstract

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