Selenium and mercury molar ratios in saltwater fish from New Jersey: Individual and species variability complicate use in human health fish consumption advisories

Joanna Burger, Michael Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations

Abstract

Balancing risk versus benefits to humans and other organisms from consuming fish is a national concern in the USA, as well as in many other parts of the world. Protecting public health is both a federal and state responsibility, and states respond by issuing fish consumption advisories, particularly for mercury. Recently it has been emphasized that the protective role of selenium against mercury toxicity depends on their molar ratios, which should be evaluated as an indication of selenium's protective capacity, and incorporated in risk assessments for fish consumption. However, there is no single "protective" ratio agreed upon. In this paper we examine the selenium:mercury (Se:Hg) molar ratios in a wide range of saltwater fish caught and eaten by recreational fishers along the New Jersey coast. We were particularly interested in interspecific and intraspecific variability, and whether the molar ratios were consistent within a species, allowing for its use in managing risk. The selenium-mercury molar ratio showed significant variation among and within fish species. The molar ratio decreased with the size of the fish species, decreased with the mercury levels, and within a fish species, the selenium:mercury ratio decreased with fish size. As an essential element, selenium undergoes some homeostatic regulation, but it is also highly toxic. Within species, mercury level tends to increase with size, accounting for the negative relationship between size and ratio. This variability may make it difficult to use the selenium:mercury molar ratio in risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication at this time, and more information is needed on how mercury and selenium actually interact and on the relationship between the molar ratios and health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-23
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental research
Volume114
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)

Keywords

  • Fish
  • Individual variation
  • Mercury
  • Selenium
  • Selenium:mercury ratios

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