Hair mercury and urinary cadmium levels in Belgian children and their mothers within the framework of the COPHES/DEMOCOPHES projects

Catherine Pirard*, Gudrun Koppen, Koen De Cremer, Ilse Van Overmeire, Eva Govarts, Marie Christine Dewolf, Els Van De Mieroop, Dominique Aerts, Pierre Biot, Ludwine Casteleyn, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Gerda Schwedler, Jürgen Angerer, Holger M. Koch, Birgit K. Schindler, Argelia Castaño, Marta Esteban, Greet Schoeters, Elly Den Hond, Ovnair SepaiKaren Exley, Milena Horvat, Louis Bloemen, Lisbeth E. Knudsen, Reinhard Joas, Anke Joas, Joris Van Loco, Corinne Charlier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


A harmonized human biomonitoring pilot study was set up within the frame of the European projects DEMOCOPHES and COPHES. In 17 European countries, biomarkers of some environmental pollutants, including urinary cadmium and hair mercury, were measured in children and their mothers in order to obtain European-wide comparison values on these chemicals. The Belgian participant population consisted in 129 school children (6-11. years) and their mothers (≤. 45. years) living in urban or rural areas of Belgium.The geometric mean levels for mercury in hair were 0.383. μg/g and 0.204. μg/g for respectively mothers and children. Cadmium in mother's and children's urine was detected at a geometric mean concentration of respectively 0.21 and 0.04. μg/l. For both biomarkers, levels measured in the mothers and their child were correlated. While the urinary cadmium levels increased with age, no trend was found for hair mercury content, except the fact that mothers hold higher levels than children. The hair mercury content increased significantly with the number of dental amalgam fillings, explaining partially the higher levels in the mothers by their higher presence rate of these amalgams compared to children. Fish or seafood consumption was the other main parameter determining the mercury levels in hair. No relationship was found between smoking status and cadmium or mercury levels, but the studied population included very few smokers. Urinary cadmium levels were higher in both mothers and children living in urban areas, while for mercury this difference was only significant for children. Our small population showed urinary cadmium and hair mercury levels lower than the health based guidelines suggested by the WHO or the JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives). Only 1% had cadmium level slightly higher than the German HBM-I value (1. μg/l for adults), and 9% exceeded the 1. μg mercury/g hair suggested by the US EPA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-740
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment, The
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was carried out with the help of the COPHES project, funded by the 7th Framework Programme (DG Research — No. 244237 ) and within the frame of the DEMOCOPHES project co-funded by the LIFE + programme (DG Environment-LIFE09 ENV/BE000410 ) and by the Belgian Joint Interministerial Conference on Environment and Health . We also would like to thank all the project partners for their support.


  • Cadmium
  • Europe
  • Hair
  • Human biomonitoring
  • Mercury
  • Urine


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