Mercury (Hg) is a widespread, highly toxic persistent pollutant with adverse health effects on humans. So far, concentrations below the method detection limit have always been reported by studies on the concentration of mercury in bottled water when determined using instrumental analytical methods. These are often very expensive and are unaffordable for many laboratories. In this work, a less expensive method based on cold vapour atomic fluorescence spectrometry has been employed to determine total mercury (HgT) concentrations in bottled natural mineral waters. In all, 255 waters representing 164 different typologies were analysed. They came from 136 springs located in 18 Italian regions. In all samples, HgT concentrations were found in the range of sub-nanogram to a few nanograms per litre, well below the National and European regulatory limit (1 μg L−1). Differences in HgT concentrations were related not only to the environmental characteristics of the springs but also to the extent and impact of human activities. Higher concentrations were found in waters coming from regions with former mining and/or natural thermal and volcanic activity. These data allowed us to estimate the mercury intake by population (adults, children and toddlers) from drinkable mineral waters consumption. The mean mercury daily intake was found to be remarkably lower, not only than the provisional tolerable value (1 μg L−1 according to European and Italian legislation) but also than the estimated provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) value (4 μg kg−1 body weight) recommended by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
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