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Open Access Research article

Population correlates of circulating mercury levels in Korean adults: the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV

Seongbeom Cho1, David R Jacobs2 and Kyong Park3*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Veterinary Medicine and Research Institute for Veterinary Science, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea

2 Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

3 Department of Food and Nutrition, Yeungnam University, Gyeongsan, Gyeongbuk, Republic of Korea

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:527  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-527

Published: 29 May 2014



Prior studies focused on bioaccumulation of mercury (Hg) and on large, long-lived fish species as the major environmental source of Hg, but little is known about consumption of small-sized fish or about non-dietary determinants of circulating Hg levels. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whole blood mercury concentration (WBHg) and its major dietary and non-dietary correlates in Korean adults.


We analyzed cross-sectional data from 3,972 (male = 1,994; female = 1,978) participants who completed the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey IV, 2008 to 2009. Relevant factors included diet, geographic location of residence, demographics, and lifestyle. WBHg concentration was measured using cold-vapor atomic absorption spectrometry. Multivariable linear models assessed independent correlates of dietary and non-dietary factors for WBHg levels.


Median levels of WBHg were 5.1 μg/L in men and 3.7 μg/L in women. Higher levels of fish/shellfish intake were associated with higher levels of WBHg. Higher consumption of small-sized fish was linked to higher levels of WBHg. Non-dietary predictors of higher WBHg were being male, greater alcohol consumption, higher income and education, overweight/obesity, increasing age, and living in the southeast region.


Both dietary and non-dietary factors were associated with WBHg levels in the Korean population. There is significant geographic variation in WBHg levels; residents living in the mid-south have higher WBHg levels. We speculate that uncontrolled geographic characteristics, such as local soil/water content and specific dietary habits are involved.

Blood mercury; Correlates; Fish intake; Korean adults