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Economic benefits of methylmercury exposure control in Europe: Monetary value of neurotoxicity prevention

Martine Bellanger1*, Céline Pichery1, Dominique Aerts2, Marika Berglund3, Argelia Castaño4, Mája Čejchanová5, Pierre Crettaz6, Fred Davidson7, Marta Esteban4, Marc E Fischer8, Anca Elena Gurzau9, Katarina Halzlova10, Andromachi Katsonouri11, Lisbeth E Knudsen12, Marike Kolossa-Gehring13, Gudrun Koppen14, Danuta Ligocka15, Ana Miklavčič16, M Fátima Reis17, Peter Rudnai18, Janja Snoj Tratnik16, Pál Weihe19, Esben Budtz-Jørgensen12, Philippe Grandjean2021 and DEMO/COPHES

Author Affiliations

1 EHESP School of Public Health, Rennes Cedex, France

2 FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, Brussels, Belgium

3 Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

4 Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Majadahonda, Madrid, Spain

5 National Institute of Public Health, Prague, Czech Republic

6 EDI, Bundesamt für Gesundheit, Liebefeld, Switzerland

7 Health Service Executive South, Cork, Ireland

8 Laboratoire National de Santé, Luxembourg, Luxembourg

9 Environmental Health Center, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

10 Public Health Authority of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava, Slovakia

11 Cyprus State General Laboratory, Nicosia, Cyprus

12 Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

13 Umweltbundesamt, Berlin, Germany

14 Flemish Institute for Technological Research, Mol, Belgium

15 Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, Lodz, Poland

16 Jožef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia

17 Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal

18 National Institute of Environmental Health, Budapest, Hungary

19 Faroese Hospital System, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

20 Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

21 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:3  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-3

Published: 7 January 2013



Due to global mercury pollution and the adverse health effects of prenatal exposure to methylmercury (MeHg), an assessment of the economic benefits of prevented developmental neurotoxicity is necessary for any cost-benefit analysis.


Distributions of hair-Hg concentrations among women of reproductive age were obtained from the DEMOCOPHES project (1,875 subjects in 17 countries) and literature data (6,820 subjects from 8 countries). The exposures were assumed to comply with log-normal distributions. Neurotoxicity effects were estimated from a linear dose-response function with a slope of 0.465 Intelligence Quotient (IQ) point reduction per μg/g increase in the maternal hair-Hg concentration during pregnancy, assuming no deficits below a hair-Hg limit of 0.58 μg/g thought to be safe. A logarithmic IQ response was used in sensitivity analyses. The estimated IQ benefit cost was based on lifetime income, adjusted for purchasing power parity.


The hair-mercury concentrations were the highest in Southern Europe and lowest in Eastern Europe. The results suggest that, within the EU, more than 1.8 million children are born every year with MeHg exposures above the limit of 0.58 μg/g, and about 200,000 births exceed a higher limit of 2.5 μg/g proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The total annual benefits of exposure prevention within the EU were estimated at more than 600,000 IQ points per year, corresponding to a total economic benefit between €8,000 million and €9,000 million per year. About four-fold higher values were obtained when using the logarithmic response function, while adjustment for productivity resulted in slightly lower total benefits. These calculations do not include the less tangible advantages of protecting brain development against neurotoxicity or any other adverse effects.


These estimates document that efforts to combat mercury pollution and to reduce MeHg exposures will have very substantial economic benefits in Europe, mainly in southern countries. Some data may not be entirely representative, some countries were not covered, and anticipated changes in mercury pollution all suggest a need for extended biomonitoring of human MeHg exposure.

Economic evaluation; Methylmercury; Prenatal exposure; Neurodevelopmental deficits