Methods and Rationale for Derivation of a Reference Dose for Methylmercury By the US EPA
In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency derived a reference dose (RfD) for methylmercury, which is a daily intake that is likely to be without appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime. This derivation used a series of benchmark dose (BMD) analysis provided by a National Research Council (NRC) panel convened to assess the health effects of methylmercury. Analyses were performed for a number of endpoints from three large longitudinal cohort studies of the neuropsychological consequences of in utero exposure to methylmercury: the Faroe Islands, Seychelles Islands, and New Zealand studies. Adverse effects were identified in the Faroe Islands and New Zealand studies, but not in the Seychelles Islands. The NRC also performed an integrative analysis of all three studies. The EPA applied a total uncertainty factor (UF) of 10 for intrahuman toxicokinetic and toxicodynamic variability and uncertainty. Dose conversion from cord blood mercury concentrations to maternal methylmercury intake was performed using a one-compartment model. Derivation of potential RfDs from a number of endpoints from the Faroe Islands study converged on 0.1 ug/kg/day, as did the integrative analysis of all three studies. EPA identified several areas for which further information or analyses is needed. Perhaps the most immediately relevant is the ratio of cord:maternal blood mercury concentration, as well as the variability around this ratio. EPA assumed in its dose conversion that the ratio was 1.0; however, available data suggest it is perhaps 1.5-2.0. Verification of a deviation from unity presumably would be translated directly into comparable reduction in the RfD. Other areas that EPA identified as significant areas requiring further attention are cardiovascular consequences of methylmercury exposure and delayed neurotoxicity during aging as a result of previous developmental or adutl exposure.