New insight into biomarkers of human mercury exposure using naturally occurring mercury stable isotopes.


Human exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) and elemental mercury vapor (Hg(0)(g)) are often estimated using total Hg concentrations in hair and urine, respectively. We investigated whether Hg stable isotopes could be used to better distinguish between exposure to Hg(0)(g) versus MeHg. We found that hair from North American dental professionals was characterized by high positive Δ(199)Hg values (mean = 1.86‰, 1 SD = 0.12‰, n = 11). This confirms that among people who regularly consume fish, total Hg concentrations in hair reflect exposure to MeHg. In contrast, we found that urine from the same individuals was characterized by a range of Δ(199)Hg values (0.29 to 1.77‰, 2 SD = 0.06‰, n = 12) that were significantly correlated to the number of dental amalgams in each individual's mouth. We hypothesize that fish-derived MeHg is demethylated within the body, causing mass-dependent fractionation and the excretion of inorganic Hg in urine. Mercury in urine therefore represents a mixture of demethylated fish-derived MeHg and amalgam-derived inorganic Hg. We estimate that the majority (>70%) of Hg in urine from individuals with <10 dental amalgams is derived from ingestion of MeHg in fish. These data suggest that within populations that consume fish, urine total Hg concentrations may overestimate Hg exposure from personal dental amalgams.

DOI: 10.1021/es305250z

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@article{Sherman2013NewII, title={New insight into biomarkers of human mercury exposure using naturally occurring mercury stable isotopes.}, author={Laura S. Sherman and Joel D Blum and Alfred Franzblau and Niladri Basu}, journal={Environmental science & technology}, year={2013}, volume={47 7}, pages={3403-9} }