Health Determinants of Methylmercury Exposure in Coastal Pakistani Women: Fish Consumption and Environmental Influences

  • Asad Ali Khan Department of Community Health Sciences, Fazaia Ruth Pfau Medical College, Karachi/Air University, Islamabad
  • Syed Iqbal Azam Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi
Keywords: Mercury Pollution, Methylmercury Exposure, Fish Consumption, Coastal Communities, Pakistan

Abstract

Background: Mercury pollution from industries poses health risks through bioaccumulation in fish. Women in coastal communities with high fish intakes are particularly vulnerable. However, methylmercury (MeHg) exposure has not been quantified in Pakistan.

Objective: To estimate MeHg levels in the scalp hair of women from a coastal community in Sindh province and examine the relationship with fish consumption and other risk factors.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 100 women aged 15–49 years in Rehri Goth, Sindh. Detailed dietary histories were obtained through interviews. Scalp hair samples were analysed for total mercury using cold-vapour Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry.

Results: The median hair MeHg level was 7.15 μg/g, exceeding international guidelines. Higher levels were associated with fish from polluted waters (3.5 μg/g), skin whitening product use (6.5 μg/g), and traditional medicine intake (9.0 μg/g). A weak positive correlation was found between MeHg and age. Fish consumption averaged 4 times/week.

Conclusion: Women in coastal Sindh have high MeHg exposure from frequent fish intake, likely exacerbated by industrial pollution. Risk mitigation is needed to protect vulnerable populations, especially during critical windows of neurodevelopment.

 

Published
2024-04-03
Section
Original Articles