Title of Work

The Health Effects of Fetal Mercury Exposure: A Systematic Review

Document Type

Poster Session

Publication/Presentation Date

Winter 1-30-2020

City of Publication or Presentation

St. Paul, MN

Conference Name

Minnesota Environmental Health Association Winter Conference

Conference Location

St. Paul, MN


Background: According to World Health Organization (WHO), mercury is one of the top ten chemicals that pose a public health concern. More than 600,000 newborns per year experience in utero mercury exposures. Although mercury exposure can affect anyone, the burden is unequally placed on certain populations where exposure is high due to high consumption of fish or those in close proximity to factories. Objective: This review seeks to determine and assess the health effects of fetal mercury exposure through a systematic review of current literature. Methods: Google Scholar, PubMed, and Science Direct were used to find articles relevant to our study on the health effects of fetal mercury exposure. Articles chosen for the study were published between 2013 and 2019, had full text available, were written in English, had human subjects, and were relevant to our research topic. We found 21 articles that were relevant to our topic and met some of our criteria. Out of these 21 articles, we used 10 that were most relevant to our project and met all of our inclusion criteria. Results: Fetuses and infants are particularly vulnerable to mercury as it can cross the placental barrier during pregnancy and can be in breast milk after birth. Our studies found that mercury exposure has significant associations with reduced neurocognitive development, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Fetal mercury exposure is also linked to anxiety in some children, and girls are more prone to the negative effects than boys. Mothers can minimize the risk of exposure to mercury through reduction in the consumption of fish and the termination of use of household items such as anti-aging products and skin lighteners. Conclusion: Methylmercury exposure is a serious risk for fetuses, especially in communities where fish are often consumed. To combat the adverse health effects of methylmercury exposure, food and water could be tested more often for mercury. In addition, there should be stronger regulations at the state level to reduce the use of methylmercury in factories and limit inhalation of methylmercury. Lastly, women who are pregnant or could become pregnant should be educated on the effects of methylmercury and how they can avoid exposure. Implication: This literature review call for policymakers to increase regulation of seafood for the presence of mercury and implement educational health promotion programs to better educate pregnant mothers.

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