Risk Analysis

An Exposure Assessment for Methylmercury from Seafood for Consumers in the United States

Journal Article

An exposure model was developed to relate seafood consumption to levels of methylmercury (reported as mercury) in blood and hair in the U.S. population, and two subpopulations defined as children aged 2–5 and women aged 18–45. Seafood consumption was initially modeled using short‐term (three‐day) U.S.‐consumption surveys that recorded the amount of fish eaten per meal. Since longer exposure periods include more eaters with a lower daily mean intake, the consumption distribution was adjusted by broadening the distribution to include more eaters and reducing the distribution mean to keep total population intake constant. The estimate for the total number of eaters was based on long‐term purchase diaries. Levels of mercury in canned tuna, swordfish, and shark were based on FDA survey data. The distribution of mercury levels in other species was based on reported mean levels, with the frequency of consumption of each species based on market share. The shape distribution for the given mean was based on the range of variation encountered among shark, tuna, and swordfish. These distributions were integrated with a simulation that estimated average daily intake over a 360‐day period, with 10,000 simulated individuals and 1,000 uncertainty iterations. The results of this simulation were then used as an input to a second simulation that modeled levels of mercury in blood and hair. The relationship between dietary intake and blood mercury in a population was modeled from data obtained from a 90‐day study with controlled seafood intake. The relationship between blood and hair mercury in a population was modeled from data obtained from several sources. The biomarker simulation employed 2,000 simulated individuals and 1,000 uncertainty iterations. These results were then compared to the recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that tabulated blood and hair mercury levels in a cross‐section of the U.S. population. The output of the model and NHANES results were similar for both children and adult women, with predicted mercury biomarker concentrations within a factor of two or less of NHANES biomarker results. However, the model tended to underpredict blood levels for women and overpredict blood and hair levels for children.

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