BACKGROUND: 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. METHODS: 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. RESULTS: 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. CONCLUSIONS: 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.
Environmental Health: a Global Access Science Source, 2013, Vol 12, Issue 1