Mercury exposure in humans through food consumption from the Everglades of Florida

L. E. Fleming, S. Walking, R. Kaderman, B. Levin, D. R. Ayyar, M. Bizzio, D. Stephens, J. A. Bean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In March 1989, The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) issued a Health Advisory recommending the limited consumption of several fish species caught from the Everglades region of South Florida due to elevated methylmercury (MeHg) levels (average 2-3 ppm in fish meat). There were no reports of clinical MeHg poisoning in humans in Florida, although deaths of Florida panthers were attributed to mercury (Hg). poisoning. This study evaluated the extent of MeHg exposure in persons eating contaminated fish in the Everglades region. Populations at risk were identified including sport fishermen, Everglades Residents and subsistence fishermen. Over 1700 individuals were approached; those who had eaten fish or wildlife from the contaminated areas at least once/month for the prior three months were asked to participate. Three hundred and fifty (350) participants completed a brief questionnaire and provided a hair sample for Hg analysis. In 119 (36%) of individuals with levels above the limits of detection, the mean total Hg in hair was 3.62±3.0 μg/g [± standard deviation] with a range of 1.28 - 15.57. The most at risk populations identified with respect to Hg levels were Blacks and men. Although the majority of the participants had fished in the Everglades for many years (>15 years), they reported relatively low intake of fish and had low hair Hg levels compared with similar populations in prior studies of other populations at risk. Although 71% of participants knew of the State Health Advisories concerning ingestion of Hg contaminated fish from the Everglades, this did not change their consumption habits. In addition, Blacks, individuals of lower income and of lower education levels were less likely to know about the Health Advisories. Given recent studies of neurologic effects from relatively low in utero MeHg exposure, the continuation of the Mercury Health Advisories and wildlife monitoring in the Everglades are warranted, especially for women of childbearing age and children. However, public education must be targeted for the populations at risk identified in this study in order to reach these populations more effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-48
Number of pages8
JournalWater, Air, & Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Feb 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Pollution


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