Mercury is a neurotoxin that is distributed in the environment and present in many products encountered in daily life. It is used in industry and consumer products, exists as a natural impurity in ores, is non-degradable, and widely circulates within and between ecosystems.
Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad Researchers have found that people living in a city with active coal-fired power plants and consuming local aquatic produce may have higher body levels of mercury. They arrived at this finding after analyzing the amounts of mercury in the hair of over 600 people in three cities in India. Their study has recently been reported in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, a peer-reviewed a Public Health journal.
As per Dr. Qureshi , “Hair is an excellent indicator of mercury in the body”. Dr. Qureshi’s survey showed that nearly 5.5% of the people tested had mercury levels above the current US-EPA reference. It was found that the women of child-bearing age surveyed in this study had generally lower hair mercury than the women of child-bearing age in the US or EU. “This could be because participants in our study consume smaller sized fishes and species that belong to lower trophic levels. In contrast, larger and higher trophic level species such as tuna and cod are among the most commonly consumed fish species in the US or EU”, the authors justify this observation, in their paper.
The Research Team was headed by Dr. Asif Qureshi, Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Hyderabad. The IIT Hyderabad Research team chose three cities for their analysis – Hyderabad, a city in the interior of the country with no specific local mercury source, Vasco da Gama, a city along the West Coast, with again, no specific mercury source but probably more fish-eaters, and Nellore, a coastal city in Andhra Pradesh with several coal-fired power plants.
After collating information on demography, body mass index, dietary patterns, professions and other variables of more than 600 people in these cities, the research team proceeded to analyze the amount of mercury in their bodies.