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Population-Based Inorganic Mercury Biomonitoring and the Identification of Skin Care Products as a Source of Exposure in New York City
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    Mercury is a toxic metal that has been used for centuries as a constituent of medicines and other items.


    We assessed exposure to inorganic mercury in the adult population of New York City (NYC).


    We measured mercury concentrations in spot urine specimens from a representative sample of 1,840 adult New Yorkers in the 2004 NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Cases with urine concentrations ≥ 20 μg/L were followed up with a telephone or in-person interview that asked about potential sources of exposure, including ritualistic/cultural practices, skin care products, mercury spills, herbal medicine products, and fish.


    Geometric mean urine mercury concentration in NYC was higher for Caribbean-born blacks [1.39 μg/L; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.14–1.70] and Dominicans (1.04 μg/L; 95% CI, 0.82–1.33) than for non-Hispanic whites (0.67 μg/L; 95% CI, 0.60–0.75) or other racial/ethnic groups. It was also higher among those who reported at least 20 fish meals in the past 30 days (1.02 μg/L; 95% CI, 0.83–1.25) than among those who reported no fish meals (0.50 μg/L; 95% CI, 0.41–0.61). We observed the highest 95th percentile of exposure (21.18 μg/L; 95% CI, 7.25–51.29) among Dominican women. Mercury-containing skin-lightening creams were a source of exposure among those most highly exposed, and we subsequently identified 12 imported products containing illegal levels of mercury in NYC stores.


    Population-based biomonitoring identified a previously unrecognized source of exposure to inorganic mercury among NYC residents. In response, the NYC Health Department embargoed products and notified store owners and the public that skin-lightening creams and other skin care products that contain mercury are dangerous and illegal. Although exposure to inorganic mercury is not a widespread problem in NYC, users of these products may be at risk of health effects from exposure.

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    U38EH000464-01/EH/NCEH CDC HHS/United States
    U50CCJU222455/PHS HHS/United States
    U50CCU223290/PHS HHS/United States
    U59CCU22339202/PHS HHS/United States
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