More than fifty years have passed since the outbreak of Minamata disease, and large-scale methylmercury poisoning due to industrial effluents or methylmercury-containing fungicide intoxication has scarcely happened in developed countries. On the other hand, widespread environmental mercury contamination has occurred in gold and mercury mining areas of developing countries. In this article, we provided an overview of recent studies addressing human health effects of methylmercury, which we searched using the PubMed of the US National Library of Medicine.
The following suggestions were obtained for low-level methylmercury exposure: (1) In recent years, the proportion of human studies addressing methylmercury has tended to decrease. (2) Prenatal exposure to methylmercury through fish intake, even at low levels, adversely affects child development after adjusting for polychlorinated biphenyls and maternal fish intake during pregnancy, whereas maternal seafood intake has some benefits. (3) Long-term methylmercury exposure through consumption of fish such as bigeye tuna and swordfish may pose a potential risk of cardiac events involving sympathovagal imbalance. (4) In measuring methylmercury levels in preserved umbilical cord collected from inhabitants born in Minamata areas between 1945 and 1989, the elevated concentrations (≥1 mg/g) were observed mainly in inhabitants born between 1947 and 1968, and the peak coincided with the peak of acetaldehyde production in Minamata. (5) Since some developing countries appear to be in similar situations to Japan in the past, attention should be directed toward early recognition of a risky agent and precautions should be taken against it.