Persistence of mercury-induced motor and sensory neurotoxicity: systematic review of workers previously exposed to mercury vapor

<p>Elemental mercury (Hg<sup>0</sup>) is a well-recognized neurotoxicant, but it is uncertain whether and for how long its neurotoxicity persists. Among studies that evaluated <i>previously-exposed</i> workers, only one examined workers during and also years after exposure had ceased. The objective of this review is to create a series of ‘synthetic’ longitudinal studies to address the question of persistence of Hg<sup>0</sup> neurotoxicity in occupationally exposed workers. We systematically reviewed studies describing objective motor and sensory effects in <i>previously-exposed</i> mercury workers. Data from physical examination (PE), neurobehavioral (NB) tests, and electrophysiological studies (EPS) were extracted into structured tables and examined for their consistency and dose-relatedness and then compared with the corresponding results from studies of currently exposed workers. We identified six cohorts that described neurological findings in 1299 workers, examined an average of 4.8–30 years after the cessation of exposure. Historical group mean U<sub>Hg</sub> levels ranged from 23 to >500 μg/L, with U<sub>Hg</sub> levels >6000 μg/L in some individuals. Overall, few findings were significant; most were inconsistent across the previous-exposure studies, and in comparisons between studies of previously and currently exposed workers. The results of this systematic review indicate that Hg<sup>0</sup>-related neurotoxic effects detectable on PE, NB testing, and EPS are substantially reversed over time. To the extent that such effects do persist, they are reported principally in workers who have had very high-dose exposures. In addition, based on the limited available data, those effects reported to persist have been described as having little or no functional significance.</p>