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Sources of Mercury Exposure to Children in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

By Rita Ann Kampalath and Jennifer Ayla Jay


Background. Many children in low- and middle-income countries face enhanced risks of exposure to contaminants via the environment, parental occupation, and other routes. While mercury (Hg) is a global pollutant whose transport properties allow it to have an impact even in pristine areas, the presence of significant Hg sources in the developing world can cause localized effects that are more severe than those observed in other areas. Objectives. This paper provides a narrative review of sources of Hg exposure to people in the developing world with a particular focus on children, and presents an overview of key aspects to this important issue. Methods. We searched Web of Knowledge and Google Scholar using keywords including combinations of “mercury” and one or more of the following: “children,” “exposure,” “breast milk,” “artisanal mining,” “prenatal,” “religion,” “medicine,” “dental amalgam,” “chlor-alkali,” “VCM,” “vaccine,” “e-waste,” “industry,” “beauty,” “cosmetics,” “strategies,” “child labor,” “costs,” and “developing countries” to find peer-reviewed articles pertaining to Hg exposure in the developing world. Results. Sources of Hg exposure include mining, consumption, industrial operations, religious practices, traditional medicines, beauty products, vaccines, dental amalgams, and waste scavenging and recycling. Conclusion. Children in the developing world are often subject to higher levels of Hg exposure than those living in developed countries due to the higher prevalence of Hg-intensive industrial processes and consumer products, lack of environmental regulation, and limits in mobility and food choices, among other factors. This issue can be addressed through additional research to fill in data gaps on exposure sources, establish sound and enforceable policies, and increase education and participation in affected communities. Challenges to addressing this problem include limited resources for needed equipment, training, and manpower to implement solutions. Competing Interests. The authors declare no competing financial interests

Topics: mercury, children, exposure, developing countries, low-income countries, middle-income countries, artisanal gold mining, Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering, TD1-1066
Publisher: Pure Earth
Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.5696/2156-9614-5-8.33
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