Jump to main content

How are people exposed to methylmercury and what are methylmercury's health effects?

Exposure 

“Although most people have mercury levels in their bodies below the level associated with possible health effects, almost all people in the world have at least trace amounts of methylmercury in their bodies, reflecting its pervasive presence in the environment. Nearly all methylmercury exposures in the U.S. occur through eating fish and shellfish that contain higher levels of methylmercury.” Find out more about how mercury enters the environment, how it moves up the food chain to fish, and what EPA and other federal agencies are doing to help reduce exposures to methylmercury: Visit How People are Exposed to Mercury: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/exposure.htm

Health Effects 
“For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother's consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby's growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb…

In addition to the impairments noted above, symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include; impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations ("pins and needles" feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness. People concerned about their exposure to methylmercury should consult their physician.” For more information visit: Mercury - Health Effects: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/effects.htm

You can also view The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) toxicological profile for mercury: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=115&tid=24

What You Can Do
Read advice about eating fish. In 2004, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued advice about how often women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers and young children should eat certain types of fish. By following the advisory, parents can reduce their unborn or young child's exposure to the harmful effects of methylmercury, while at the same time maintaining a healthy diet that includes the nutritional benefits of fish and shellfish. In 2014, FDA and EPA issued a draft of a revision to this advice. You can comment on the draft.

States issue fish advisories that tell consumers about how often they should eat certain types and quantities of locally caught fish.

Was this answer helpful?YesNo
Topic Information
  • Topic #: 23002-16066
  • Date Created: 1/19/2005
  • Last Modified Since: 12/8/2014
  • Viewed: 3900

Jump to main content.