Research ArticleOpen Access

Inorganic mercury and methylmercury in placentas of Swedish women.

    Published: by:95

    We determined levels of inorganic mercury (I-Hg) and methylmercury in placentas from 119 Swedish women, not selected with respect to high exposure of mercury. Our objective was to relate placental Hg species with maternal and fetal blood concentrations and to evaluate possible associations with selenium. We performed the analyses using automated alkaline solubilization/reduction and cold-vapor atomic fluorescence spectrophotometry. I-Hg levels in placenta increased with an increasing number of maternal dental amalgam fillings (p < 0.001). Despite placental accumulation (median, 1.3 microg/kg; range, 0.18-6.7 microg/kg wet weight), a substantial fraction of maternal blood I-Hg, probably as Hg(0), reached the fetus. Although MeHg transferred easily to the fetus, it also accumulated in the placenta. On average, 60% of placental Hg was in the form of MeHg. The median concentration was 1.8 microg/kg (range, 0-6.2 microg/kg wet weight), more than twice the maternal blood concentration. We found significant associations between MeHg and selenium in both maternal and umbilical cord blood but not in the placenta. The associations were particularly obvious in freshwater fish consumers, probably reflecting that fish is a source of both MeHg and selenium. We found no correlations between I-Hg and selenium. This study increases the understanding of Hg, in its different forms, in human placenta and how they are related to maternal and fetal exposure.