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Chronologically matched toenail-Hg to hair-Hg ratio: temporal analysis within the Japanese community (U.S.)

Thomas Hinners1, Ami Tsuchiya2, Alan H Stern3, Thomas M Burbacher2, Elaine M Faustman24 and Koenraad Mariën5*

Author Affiliations

1 National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Las Vegas, NV, USA

2 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Services, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

3 Department of Environmental Protection, Trenton, NJ, USA

4 Institute for Risk Analysis and Risk Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

5 Department of Health, Olympia, WA, USA

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Environmental Health 2012, 11:81  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-11-81

Published: 31 October 2012



Toenail-Hg levels are being used as a marker of methylmercury (MeHg) exposure in efforts to associate exposure with effects such as cardiovascular disease. There is a need to correlate this marker with more established biomarkers that presently underlie existing dose–response relationships in order to compare these relationships across studies.


As part of the Arsenic Mercury Intake Biometric Study, toenail clippings were collected at three time points over a period of one year amongst females from within the population of Japanese living near Puget Sound in Washington State (US). Variability in temporal intra-individual toenail-Hg levels was examined and chronologically matched hair and toenail samples were compared to more accurately define the toxicokinetic variability of Hg levels observed between the two compartments.


Mean toenail-Hg values (n=43) for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd visits were 0.60, 0.60 and 0.56 ng/mg. Correlations were as follows: r=0.92 between 1st and 2nd clinic visits, r=0.75 between 1st and 3rd visits and r=0.87 between 2nd and 3rd visits. With few exceptions, toenail-Hg values from any visit were within 50-150% of the individual’s mean toenail-Hg level. Nearly all participants had less than a two-fold change in toenail-Hg levels across the study period. A regression model of the relationship between toenail-Hg and hair-Hg (n = 41) levels representing the same time period of exposure, gave a slope (Hg ng/mg) of 2.79 for hair relative to toenail (r=0.954).


A chronologically matched hair-Hg to toenail-Hg ratio has been identified within a population that consumes fish regularly and in quantity. Intra-individual variation in toenail-Hg levels was less than two-fold and may represent dietary-based fluctuations in body burden for individuals consuming various fish species with different contaminant levels. The chronologically matched ratio will be useful for relating MeHg exposure and dose–response derived from toenail-Hg measurements to those derived from hair-Hg measurements in other studies, and may be useful in future investigations as an indicator of stable MeHg body burden within a population.

Mercury; Methylmercury; Cardiovascular; Hair; Toenail; Chronological; Biomarker