Open Access Open Badges Research article

Seafood consumption and umbilical cord blood mercury concentrations in a multiethnic maternal and child health cohort

Reni Soon1, Timothy D Dye12*, Nicholas V Ralston3, Marla J Berry4 and Lynnae M Sauvage1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health, University of Hawaii, 1319 Punahou Street, Suite 824, Honolulu 96826, Hawaii

2 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Rochester, 265 Crittenden Boulevard, CU 420708, Rochester 14642-0708, New York

3 Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), University of North Dakota, 15 North 23rd Street, Stop 9018, Grand Forks, North Dakota 58202-9018

4 Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Hawaii, 651 Ilalo St, Room 222G, Honolulu 96813, Hawaii

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:209  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-209

Published: 18 June 2014



Fish consumption is common among the cultures of Hawaii, and given public health attention to mercury exposure in pregnancy, it is important to better understand patterns of fish consumption and mercury in pregnancy. This study examined the influence of maternal fish consumption during pregnancy on umbilical cord mercury (Hg) concentrations in a multiethnic cohort of women in Hawaii.


This secondary analysis of a prospective cohort pilot study examined antenatal seafood consumption and neonatal outcomes in Hawaii. The first 100 eligible women who consented were enrolled. After delivery, umbilical cord blood and a dietary survey were obtained.


Most women (86%) consumed seafood during the month prior to delivery. Overall, 9% of women consumed more than the recommended limit of 12 ounces/week. Seafood consumption varied significantly by ethnicity and income, with 30% of poor women consuming more than the recommended limit. Seafood consumption did not vary by age or education.

Umbilical cord blood Hg levels were 5 μg/L or more in 44% of women. Filipina were significantly less likely to have elevated Hg levels compared with non- Filipina (p < .05). Mercury levels did not vary by other demographic characteristics.

Women reporting consumption exceeding 12 ounces fish per week were significantly more likely to have cord blood Hg levels of 5 μg/L or more, but mean Hg concentrations were not significantly higher (6.1 ± 3.3 v 5.0 ± 3.7). The odds ratio for elevated Hg, however, was significant among seafood-consumers compared with non-consumers (5.7; 95% confidence interval: 1.2, 27.1).


Despite Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, a significant portion of pregnant women consumed more than the recommended amount of seafood, which was associated with race and income. Further, almost half of study participants had cord blood Hg concentrations at or exceeding 5 μg/L.

Mercury; Fish; Seafood; Pregnancy; Hawaii; Nutrition; Environment