Seal Meat, Gold Mining: How Lower-Income Women Are Exposed To Mercury

Read the full story from NPR.

Most people have had some exposure to mercury. Fish is one source. So are mercury vapors from workplaces and factories. That’s what the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

At very low levels, the mercury isn’t likely a problem (although it’s hard to say exactly how low is “safe.”)

But higher levels can cause damage to the kidney, lungs and neurological systems. And for women of childbearing age there’s a severe additional risk: mercury levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s “reference dose” — the level of daily exposure that the EPA says is unlikely to negatively affect people’s health — could damage the fetus that a pregnant woman is carrying, including its kidneys, cardiovascular system and IQ.

And how many women are potentially at risk? That was the question behind a new report: “Mercury in Women of Childbearing Age in 25 Countries,” from IPEN, a nonprofit devoted to issues of global health and toxic chemicals, and Biodiversity Research Institute, an ecology research organization. The groups studied 1,044 women from lower-income countries and found that 42 percent had average mercury levels exceeding the EPA reference dose in their hair samples.

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