Significant elevation of human methylmercury exposure induced by the food trade in Beijing, a developing megacity.


Ministry of Education Laboratory of Earth Surface Process, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China. Electronic address: [Email]


Methylmercury (MeHg) poses health risks to humans worldwide. The investigation of a longer chain of biogeochemical MeHg transport from production to consumption than that addressed in previous studies could provide additional scientific foundation for the reduction of risks. The main objective of this study is to identify the impacts of the interregional food trade along with the age, gender and socioeconomic status of people on human MeHg exposure in a developing megacity. Based on a field investigation, sampling and measurements, we provide experimental evidence regarding the substantial displacement of human MeHg exposure from production areas to consumption areas induced by the food trade. In 2018, 20% and 64% of the exposure in Beijing originated from the international and interprovincial food trade, respectively. Meanwhile, the ingestion of fish contributed 79% to the total exposure, followed by rice (4.4%), crab (3.8%) and shrimp (2.7%), and the exposure risk in urban districts was higher than that in rural areas by a factor of 2.2. A significantly higher contribution of imported deep-sea species to exposure among young people than among older people was observed (P < 0.01**), and a larger contribution of the international food trade to the MeHg exposure risk for women of childbearing age (average: 27%) than that among other groups (average: 10%) was found. Overall, our efforts demonstrate the dramatic impact of the food trade on MeHg exposure in a developing megacity, and we suggest that MeHg-susceptible populations in China should choose indigenous fish species (e.g., hairtail, yellow croaker and carp species) rather than imported deep-sea species as their dietary protein source.


Children and young women,Deep-sea fish species,Indigenous fish species,International food trade,Interprovincial food trade,Methylmercury exposure,

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