Development and application of a novel method to characterize methylmercury exposure in newborns using dried blood spots

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Abstract

Background:

Methylmercury (MeHg) is a pollutant of global concern. While there is a need to gauge early-life exposures, there remain outstanding ethical, financial, and practical challenges with using the preferred biomarker, whole blood, notably in pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and children. Dried bloodspots (DBS) may help overcome some of these challenges. Notably DBS are collected from newborns in many jurisdictions offering an institutionalized platform to efficiently characterize exposures.

Objective:

To develop, validate, and apply a new method to measure MeHg levels in DBS with a specific aim to use this method to increase understanding of newborn exposures. Methods: Method development and validation was pursued by consulting U.S. EPA Method 1630 and other resources. The method was applied to measure MeHg levels in DBS from newborns (n = 675) from the Michigan BioTrust for Health program.

Results:

The assay's detection limit (0.3 μg/L), accuracy (96–115% of expected), precision, linearity, and range met performance criteria guidelines. In the newborn DBS samples, the mean (SD) and geometric mean values of MeHg were 1.46 (0.90) and 1.25 μg/L respectively, and ranged from 0.09 to 9.97 μg/L. The values we report here are similar to cord blood mercury values reported elsewhere.

Conclusions:

This is the first characterization of MeHg exposure in newborns, and thus fills an important data gap as prior studies have focused on pregnant women, cord blood, or toddlers. This method helps overcome technical challenges associated with other proposed approaches, and moving ahead there is great promise for applying this DBS-based method for population-level surveillance, particularly in resource-limited settings and for children's health.

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