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Your Environment. Your Health.

Cost of Mercury Pollution

Philippe Grandjean, M.D.
Harvard School of Public Health
NIEHS Grants R01ES009797, R01ES012199


According to study partly supported by NIEHS, each year in Europe, more than 1.8 million children are born with unsafe prenatal methylmercury exposures. Preventing prenatal methylmercury exposure could save the European Union 8-9 billion euro per year in lost earning potential.


Exposure to methylmercury typically occurs from eating fish, which bioconcentrate the contaminant. Methylmercury affects brain development leading to a lower IQ and, thus, lower earning potential. To calculate the costs associated with this exposure, the researchers examined mercury concentrations in hair samples from the DEMOCOPHES study of exposure to environmental chemicals, as well as other studies. They assumed that mercury levels below 0.58 micrograms per gram of hair would have little adverse effect.


The researchers estimated that preventing exposure within the European Union would bring an annual benefit equivalent to 600,000 IQ points per year, corresponding to the estimated annual economic benefit of 8-9 billion euro. Prevention would have the most impact in southern Europe, where hair-mercury concentrations were the highest. The study did not examine less tangible benefits of protecting against methylmercury exposure, and supports the need for interventions to minimize exposure. .


Citation: Bellanger M, Pichery C, Aerts D, Berglund M, Castano A, Cejchanova M, Crettaz P, Davidson F, Esteban M, Exley K, Fischer ME, Gurzau AE, Halzlova K, Katsonouri A, Knudsen LE, Kolossa-Gehring M, Koppen G, Ligocka D, Miklavcic A, Reis MF, Rudnai P, Tratnik JS, Weihe P, Budtz-Jorgensen E, Grandjean P. 2013. Economic benefits of methylmercury exposure control in Europe: Monetary value of neurotoxicity prevention. Environ Health; doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-3 [Online 7 January 2013].