Cleaning up mercury pollution and reducing prenatal exposure to the neurotoxin methylmercury (MeHg) could save the European Union €10,000 million per year, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. New estimates suggest that between 1.5 and 2 million children in the EU are born each year with MeHg exposures above the safe limit of 0.58µg/g and 200,000 above the WHO recommended maximum of 2.5µg/g.
While some mercury occurs naturally in the environment for example from volcanic eruptions or forest fires, most is generated by burning fossil fuels. Marine and fresh water species bioconcentrate MeHg; consequently the main source of exposure for humans is from eating fish.
A team of researchers from across Europe used the DEMOCOPHES study of exposure to environmental chemicals to assess the impact of MeHg on humans. Hair samples of child-mother pairs, collected from 17 European countries, demonstrated that, as a lower estimate, 1,866,000 children are born in Europe exposed to toxic levels of MeHg. 232,000 of these are exposed to hazardous levels, five times higher. But not every child in Europe is equally at risk. When analysed per country, children born in Portugal and Spain were the most exposed to MeHg, and Hungary the least.
Exposure to MeHg in humans affects brain development, resulting in a lower IQ, and consequently a lower earning potential. The long term cost to society can be calculated as lifetime earning loss per person, although this estimate does not take into account other aspects of brain toxicity or risks of cardiovascular disease in adults.
Prof Philippe Grandjean explained, "If we convert the effects of MeHg on developing brains into IQ points then the benefits of controlling MeHg pollution equates to 700,000 IQ points per year and monetary benefits of €8,000 to €9,000 million per year for the whole of the EU. Exposure abatement would mainly benefit southern Europe ."
Once MeHg is formed, it cycles though the environment for thousands of years, exposing humans and other species to potentially toxic levels for generations. Commenting on the research Dr Elsie Sunderland said, "Mitigating the harm caused by methylmercury requires global-scale cooperation on policies and source reductions. Negotiations by the United Nations Environment Program are currently underway to address mercury emission levels."
BioMed Central: http://www.biomedcentral.com
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Smithsonian photographer Laurie Penland details the exhausting, but rewarding, work of scraping invasive species off the hull of a boat
Politicians who ignore message cannot in future say they take science seriously, open letter says
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy two years ago, shocking photos showed the huge extent of the destruction caused by the storm. Only days after the storm struck, before and after satellite images from Google revealed the widespread damage to coastal areas of New York and New Jersey. Last year, before and after photos showed progress but still a lot of work to be done.
Australian scientists say they have successfully tested a vaccine aimed at protecting wild koalas from chlamydia.
A startup that might have a record-breaking solar cell is in danger of going out of business.The power unit is a rectangular slab about the size of a movie theater screen. It’s mounted on a thick steel post, and equipped with a tracking mechanism that continuously points it at the sun. The slab is made of over 100,000 small lenses and an equal number of even smaller solar cells, each the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. This contraption is part of one of the most efficient solar power devices ever made.
There are several captive breeding programs for pandas around the world; but one facility in China hopes to release the endangered animals back into the wild
Researchers argue for a nationwide shift to more premium fuel at the pump
Bird watchers' elusive warbler has shifted its summer habitat to pine plantations
One-child policies and plagues that cut the population won't be enough to fix our ecological problems, models suggest. Only changes in consumption will do that
They were down to only 15 about 50 years ago