India is a major emitter of mercury to the environment, mainly due to emissions from coal-fired power plants. Consumption of fish and rice, two important pathways for human exposure to mercury, is particularly high in South India. Here, we report concentrations of total mercury in hair (THghair) in 668 participants from South India. Three cities were covered: (i) a city on the east coast with four active coal-fired thermal power plants (Nellore), (ii) a city on the west coast with no major mercury source (Vasco da Gama), and (iii) a metropolitan city in the interior with no major mercury source (Hyderabad). Geometric mean of THghair of the entire study population is 0.14 µg/g (95% confidence interval, CI: 0.13–0.15 µg/g). Significant predictor variables are age, fish consumption, and occupations such as dental studies, subsistence fishing, and artisanal goldsmithing (which is different from artisanal scale gold mining). Our results support the hypothesis that people living in a city with active coal-fired power plants may have higher THghair than those in cities with no major mercury source.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $19.83 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Wiener JG, Krabbenhoft DP, Heinz GH, Scheuhammer AM. Ecotoxicology of mercury. Handb Ecotoxicol. 2003;2:409–63.
Feng X, Li P, Qiu G, Wang S, Li G, Shang L, et al. Human exposure to methylmercury through rice intake in mercury mining areas, Guizhou province, China. Environ Sci Technol. 2007;42:326–32.
Telmer KH, Veiga MM. World emissions of mercury from artisanal and small scale gold mining. In: Mercury fate and transport in the global atmosphere. (eds Mason R, Pirrone N) Springer, Boston, MA. 2009. p. 131–72. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-93958-2
Clarkson TW, Magos L. The toxicology of mercury and its chemical compounds. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2006;36:609–62.
Strain J, Davidson PW, Bonham MP, Duffy EM, Stokes-Riner A, Thurston SW, et al. Associations of maternal long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, methyl mercury, and infant development in the Seychelles Child Development Nutrition Study. Neurotoxicology. 2008;29:776–82.
Baeuml J, Bose-O’Reilly S, Gothe RM, Lettmeier B, Roider G, Drasch G, et al. Human biomonitoring data from mercury exposed miners in six artisanal small-scale gold mining areas in Asia and Africa. Minerals. 2011;1:122–43.
Pacyna EG, Pacyna J, Sundseth K, Munthe J, Kindbom K, Wilson S, et al. Global emission of mercury to the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources in 2005 and projections to 2020. Atmos Environ. 2010;44:2487–99.
Burger Chakraborty L, Qureshi A, Vadenbo C, Hellweg S. Anthropogenic mercury flows in India and impacts of emission controls. Environ Sci Technol. 2013;47:8105–13.
Maity P, De S, Pal A, Dhara PC. An experimental study to evaluate musculoskeletal disorders and postural stress of female craftworkers adopting different sitting postures. Int J Occup Saf Ergon. 2016;22:257–66.
Divecha C, Agarwal S, Tullu MS, Deshmukh CT, Agrawal M, Shaikh SS. Acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by mercury inhalation: a case report. J Pediatr Intensive Care. 2015;4:168–70.
CCZMCS. Database on coastal states of India. Centre for Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Shelter Belt (CCZMCS), Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate change, Government of India, 2016.
NCAEPR. Strategies and options for increasing and sustaining fisheries and aquaculture production to benefit poor households in India. National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy research, 2004.
Census of India CO. District census handbook, Hyderabad, Census of India 2011. Census Organisation, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/dchb/2805_PART_A_DCHB_HYDERABAD.pdf.
Reddy MS, Raju DT. Meat consumption pattern in Hyderabad city. Indian J Anim Res. 2010;44:248–53.
Census of India CO. District census handbook, Goa, Census of India 2011. Census Organisation, Ministry of Home affairs, Government of India. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/dchb/3001_PART_B_DCHB_NORTH%20GOA.pdf.
Census of India CO. District census handbook, Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, Census of India 2011. Census Organisation, Ministry of Home affairs, Government of India. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/dchb/2819_PART_B_DCHB_SRI%20POTTI%20SRIIAMULU%20NELLORE.pdf.
ENVIS. List of coal based thermal power stations in india up to 2016. ENVironment Information System (ENVIS), Central Building Research Institute, Ministry of Environment & Climate change, Government of India, 2016.
Dong Z, Jim RC, Hatley EL, Backus AS, Shine JP, Spengler JD, et al. A longitudinal study of mercury exposure associated with consumption of freshwater fish from a reservoir in rural south central USA. Environ Res. 2015;136:155–62.
WHO. Guidance for identifying populations at risk from mercury exposure. World Health Organisation, (Geneva, Switzerland, 2008).
Hagan N, Robins N, Hsu-Kim H, Halabi S, Gonzales RDE, Ecos E, et al. Mercury hair levels and factors that influence exposure for residents of Huancavelica, Peru. Environ Geochem Health. 2015;37:507–14.
Schaefer AM, Jensen EL, Bossart GD, Reif JS. Hair mercury concentrations and fish consumption patterns in Florida residents. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014;11:6709–26.
Chatterjee M, Basu N, Sarkar S. Mercury exposure assessment in fish and humans from Sundarban Mangrove Wetland of India. Indian J Geo-Mar Sci. 2014;43:1101–7.
Paruchuri Y, Siuniak A, Johnson N, Levin E, Mitchell K, Goodrich JM, et al. Occupational and environmental mercury exposure among small-scale gold miners in the Talensi–Nabdam District of Ghana’s Upper East region. Sci Total Environ. 2010;408:6079–85.
Masih A, Taneja A, Singhvi R. Exposure profiles of mercury in human hair at a terai belt of North India. Environ Geochem Health. 2015;38:145–56.
Miklavčič A, Mazej D, Jaćimović R, Dizdareviǒ T, Horvat M. Mercury in food items from the Idrija mercury mine area. Environ Res. 2013;125:61–8.
Census of India CO. Sample regristration system baseline survey. Census Organisation, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 2014. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/vital_statistics/BASELINE%20TABLES07062016.pdf.
Rice DC, Schoeny R, Mahaffey K. Methods and rationale for derivation of a reference dose for methylmercury by the U.S. EPA. Risk Anal. 2003;23:107–15.
Bellanger M, Pichery C, Aerts D, Berglund M, Castaño A, Čejchanová M, et al. Economic benefits of methylmercury exposure control in Europe: monetary value of neurotoxicity prevention. Environ Health. 2013;12:3.
Grandjean P, Budtz-Jørgensen E. Total imprecision of exposure biomarkers: implications for calculating exposure limits. Am J Ind Med. 2007;50:712–9.
Salonen JT, Seppänen K, Lakka TA, Salonen R, Kaplan GA. Mercury accumulation and accelerated progression of carotid atherosclerosis: a population-based prospective 4-year follow-up study in men in eastern Finland. Atherosclerosis. 2000;148:265–73.
Virtanen JK, Voutilainen S, Rissanen TH, Mursu J, Toumainen TP, Korhonen MJ, et al. Mercury, fish oils, and risk of acute coronary events and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality in men in eastern Finland. Arter Thromb Vasc Biol. 2005;25:228–33.
Menon JS, Mahajan SV. Mercury accumulation in different tissues of fish from Ulhas River Estuary and Thane Creek and the pattern of fish consumption among fish-eaters. Indian J Geo-Mar Sci. 2013;42(6):812–6.
Singh R, Sharma R, Biradar RS, Salim SS, Pandey PK, Sharma A. Mapping of the Indina fisheries growth rate and fish consumption through GIS. J Indian Fish Assoc. 2006;33:191–6.
McDowell MA, Dillon CF, Osterloh J, Bolger PM, Pellizzari E, Fernando R, et al. Hair mercury levels in US children and women of childbearing age: reference range data from NHANES 1999–2000. Environ Health Perspect. 2004;112:1165.
Castaño A, Cutanda F, Esteban M, Pärt P, Navarro C, Gómez S, et al. Fish consumption patterns and hair mercury levels in children and their mothers in 17 EU countries. Environ Res. 2015;141:58–68.
Den Hond E, Govarts E, Willems H, Smolders R, Casteleyn L, Kolossa-Gehring M. et al. First steps toward harmonized human biomonitoring in Europe: demonstration project to perform human biomonitoring on a European scale. Environ Health Perspect. 2015;123:255–63.
EUMOFA. The EU fish market. European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture products, 2016. https://www.eumofa.eu/documents/20178/77960/The+EU+fish+market+-+2016+Edition.pdf. ISBN: 978-92-79-69443-1, ISSN: 2363-4154.
Sunderland EM. Mercury exposure from domestic and imported estuarine and marine fish in the US seafood market. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115:235.
Kumar P, Dey MM, Paraguas FJ. Demand for fish by species in India: three-stage budgeting framework. Agric Econ Res Rev. 2005;18:167–86.
Ashe K. Elevated mercury concentrations in humans of Madre de Dios, Peru. PLoS ONE. 2012;7:e33305.
Dórea JG, de Souza JR, Rodrigues P, Ferrari Í, Barbosa AC. Hair mercury (signature of fish consumption) and cardiovascular risk in Munduruku and Kayabi Indians of Amazonia. Environ Res. 2005;97:209–19.
Fréry N, Maury-Brachet R, Maillot E, Deheeger M, De Merona B, Boudou A. Gold-mining activities and mercury contamination of native Amerindian communities in French Guiana: key role of fish in dietary uptake. Environ Health Perspect. 2001;109:449.
Castilhos Z, Rodrigues-Filho S, Cesar R, Rodrigues AP, Villas-Bôas R, de Jesus I, et al. Human exposure and risk assessment associated with mercury contamination in artisanal gold mining areas in the Brazilian Amazon. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2015;22:11255–64.
Krisnayanti BD. ASGM status in West Nusa Tenggara Province, Indonesia. J Degraded Min Lands Manag. 2018;5:1077–84.
Krisnayanti BD, Vassura I, Asmara MD, Ekawanti A, Suheri H. Analysis of artisanal small-scale gold mining sector in West Sumbawa regency, Indonesia. J Health Pollut. 2016;6:26–33.
Schipper I, de Haan E, van Dorp M. Gold from children’s hands: use of child-mined gold by the electronics sector. Amsterdam: tichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen (SOMO); 2015.
Li M, von Stackelberg K, Rheinberger CM, Hammitt JK, Krabbenhoft DP, Yin R, et al. Insights from mercury stable isotopes into factors affecting the internal body burden of methylmercury in frequent fish consumers. Elem Sci Anth. 2016;4:103.
Golding J, Steer CD, Hibbeln JR, Emmett PM, Lowery T, Jones R. Dietary predictors of maternal prenatal blood mercury levels in the ALSPAC birth cohort study. Environ Health Perspect. 2013;121:1214.
Caito SW, Jackson BP, Punshon T, Scrimale T, Grier A, Gill SR et al. Variation in methylmercury metabolism and elimination status in humans following fish consumption. Toxicol Sci. 2018;161:443–53.
Nielsen JB, Andersen O. Methyl mercuric chloride toxicokinetics in mice. II: Sexual differences in whole-body retention and deposition in blood, hair, skin, muscles and fat. Pharmacol Toxicol. 1991;68:208–11.
Thomas DJ, Fisher HL, Sumler MR, Marcus AH, Mushak P, Hall LL. Sexual differences in the distribution and retention of organic and inorganic mercury in methyl mercury-treated rats. Environ Res. 1986;41:219–34.
Rushton L. Reporting of occupational and environmental research: use and misuse of statistical and epidemiological methods. Occup Environ Med. 2000;57:1–9.
Laffont L, Sonke JE, Maurice L, Monrroy SL, Chincheros J, Amouroux D, et al. Hg speciation and stable isotope signatures in human hair as a tracer for dietary and occupational exposure to mercury. Environ Sci Technol. 2011;45:9910–6.
Kempson IM, Lombi E. Hair analysis as a biomonitor for toxicology, disease and health status. Chem Soc Rev. 2011;40:3915–40.
Liu X, Cheng J, Yuling S, Honda S, Wang L, Liu Z, et al. Mercury concentration in hair samples from Chinese people in coastal cities. J Environ Sci. 2008;20:1258–62.
Gaonkar CA, S.V S, George G, V.M A, Vethamony P, Anil AC. Numerical simulations of barnacle larval dispersion coupled with field observations on larval abundance, settlement and recruitment in a tropical monsoon influenced coastal marine environment. J Mar Syst. 2012;94:218–31.
Vimta Labs Ltd. Comprehensive environmental impact assessment study for 1X 800 Mw Sri Damodaram Sanjeevaiah Thermal Power Statio N (Stage-Ii), expansion to 2X 800 Mw (Stage-I) super critical coal based thermal power plant at village Nelaturu, Mut Tukuru Tehsil, Sri Potti Sriramulu Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh; 2014.
Schartup AT, Qureshi A, Dassuncao C, Thackray CP, Harding G, Sunderland EM. A model for methylmercury uptake and trophic transfer by marine plankton. Environ Sci Technol. 2018;52:654–62.
This work was supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) India INSPIRE research grant (IFA-13 EAS-10) to AQ, Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) fellowship to KLS, and the Center of Excellence in Sustainable Development IIT Hyderabad fellowship to AR.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Subhavana, K.L., Qureshi, A. & Roy, A. Mercury levels in human hair in South India: baseline, artisanal goldsmiths and coal-fired power plants. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 29, 697–705 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0107-0
- Artisanal goldsmiths
- Coal-fired power plants
History Compass (2020)
Environmental Science & Technology (2020)
Implementation of the Minamata Convention to manage mercury pollution in India: challenges and opportunities
Environmental Sciences Europe (2019)