Prenatal mercury exposure and its fetotoxic effects may be of particular concern in urban immigrant communities as a result of possible contributing cultural factors. The most common source of exposure in these communities is ingestion of fish and shellfish contaminated with methylmercury. Other sources of exposure may occur in ritualistic practices associated with Hispanic and Caribbean-based religions. This study 1) assessed total mercury levels in both random urine specimens from pregnant women, and in cord blood; and 2) examined environmental sources of exposure from a convenience sample in a predominantly Caribbean immigrant population in Brooklyn, New York. A questionnaire designed in collaboration with health professionals from the Caribbean community assessed the frequency of fish consumption, ritualistic practices, occupational exposures, and use of dental amalgams and mercury-containing skin and household products. The geometric mean for total mercury in cord blood was 2.14 μg L -1 (95%CI: 1.76-2.60) (n = 78), and 0.45 μg L -1 (95%CI: 0.37-0.55) (n = 183) in maternal urine corrected for creatinine (μg g -1). Sixteen percent of cord blood mercury levels exceeded the estimated equivalent of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Reference Dose (5.8 μg L -1 blood). Predictors of cord blood mercury included maternal fish consumption and foreign birth of the mother. Predictors of urine mercury included foreign birth of the mother, number of dental amalgams, and special product use. There were no reports of mercury use in ritualistic practices or in cosmetics; however some women reported use of religious medals and charms. This study characterized risk factors for mercury exposure in a sample of urban, predominantly Caribbean-born blacks. Findings may help target interventions in this population, which might include appropriate fish selection and consumption frequency during pregnancy, and safe handling of mercury-containing products in the home.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law