The latest issue of the journal Environmental Health published a study on the influence and cost of exposure to mercury pollution. The authors estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million children in the EU alone are born with higher than the safe limit mercury exposure each year.
Most of the mercury found in the environment is released by burning of fossil fuels. Humans are most often exposed to the toxic metal through eating marine and fresh water fish. Once produced, mercury can cycle through the environment fore thousands of years endangering animal species and humans
To assess the levels of exposure and the impact of mercury on humans, a team of researchers used the so called DEMOCOPHES study. They collected hair samples of child-mothers pairs from 17 EU countries, and showed that 232,000 children are exposed to hazardous levels of the metal, while toxic levels are detected in 1,866,000 children.
The highest levels were measured in children born in Portugal and Spain, while the lowest belong to these born in Hungary. Exposure to toxic levels of mercury can lead to slower brain development, lower IQ and as a result, lower earning potential. The scientists estimated the long term costs to society based on exposure to mercury, although other factors were not considered.
Reducing exposure would benefit greatly Southern Europe, according to Professor Philippe Grandjean. Dr Elsie Sunderland comments that global-scale cooperation is required to reduce the production. U.N. Environmental Program is expected to address mercury emission levels.