The biological monitoring of mercury in the Seychelles study

E. Cernichiari, T. Y. Toribara, L. Liang, D. O. Marsh, M. W. Berlin, G. J. Myers, C. Cox, C. F. Shamlaye, O. Choisy, P. Davidson, T. W. Clarkson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


The concentration of total mercury in maternal hair during pregnancy was used as a measure of fetal exposure to methylmercury in a study of a fish-eating population in the Seychelles islands. A segment of scalp hair approximately 10 centimeters in length, that grew during pregnancy, was selected for measurement. Total and inorganic mercury were measured by cold vapor atomic absorption (CVAA) using the Magos reagents (Magos, 1971). For comparative purposes, total mercury was measured by X-ray Fluorescent Spectrometry (XRF) and methylmercury by gas chromatography/atomic fluorescence detection (GC/AFD) in a subset of hair samples. A limited number of fish samples were also analyzed. Extensive interlaboratory testing was conducted to ensure accuracy of the mercury measurements. Concentrations of organic mercury calculated as the difference between total and inorganic mercury as measured by CVAA agreed with those of methylmercury measured on the same samples of hair by GC/AFD. Methylmercury measured by GC/AFD and organic mercury measured by CVAA accounted for over 80% of the total mercury in hair and over 90% of the total mercury in fish muscle. To test the accuracy of recapitulation by hair sampling, hair samples were collected from mothers at the time of delivery and 6 months later. The segment corresponding to the pregnancy term was selected for measurement assuming a hair growth rate of 1.1 cm/month. Results from both samples were in close agreement. As part of both a pilot investigation followed by the main study, maternal hair samples were collected each year from 1986 to 1989 for a total of 1604 samples. The median and mean values for each year's collection fell in the range of 5.9 to 8.2 ppm and exhibited no statistically significant trend with time. The highest recorded concentration was 36 ppm. In hair samples from 654 mothers, the mean concentration of total mercury was compared with the mean concentrations in segments corresponding to each trimester, approximately 3.3 centimeters in length. A high degree of correlation was found between mean levels in each trimester versus the entire pregnancy segment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)613-628
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • biological monitoring
  • infants
  • methylmercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Toxicology


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