Hair Mercury Levels of Residents in China, Indonesia, and Japan

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ABSTRACT.The authors used gold-amalgamation cold-vapor atomic absorption spectrometry and ECD-gas chromatography to analyze total mercury and methylmercury levels in hair samples obtained from 362 residents in Harbin, China; Medan, Indonesia; and Tokushima, Japan. In this study, the authors initially questioned whether mercury levels in hair differed among different study areas, and if there were differences, they questioned the contributing factors. In the three countries surveyed, total mercury and methylmercury levels in hair were lowest in residents of China and were highest in residents of Japan. In the district of Tokushima, Japan, total mercury and methylmercury levels were highest in the coastal district, followed by the middle district; the lowest levels occurred in the mountainous district. In Japan, an individual's total mercury level correlated very closely with that person's methylmercury level; in China and Indonesia, the correlation between these 2 parameters was low. No subjects in China or Indonesia had high levels of methylmercury in hair; this was true even if their total mercury levels were high. This finding suggests that the high total mercury levels observed in some residents of China and Indonesia reflected exposure to inorganic mercury. In Japan, mercury (especially methylmercury) levels in hair samples were quite high. Fish and shellfish, caught in seas uncontaminated by human activity, appeared to be major sources of the high levels of hair mercury in Japanese subjects.

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