Dietary exposure of Finnish children to heavy metals – a cumulative risk assessment

According to recent opinions by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, the intake of heavy metals via food can exceed the tolerable weekly intake levels. The main focus has been on cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg).

The aim of this project is to assess the dietary exposure of Finnish children of 1, 3 and 6 years to these heavy metals and to study if the intake of heavy metals via the current dietary habits gives cause for concern. The risk assessment will be performed cumulatively, i.e., by taking into account the cumulative exposure for each of the four heavy metals from different foodstuffs in the diet. The food items giving the highest heavy metal exposure will be identified. The

International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC has classified cadmium and arsenic as substances causing cancer in humans (group 1) and lead as substance probably causing cancer in humans (group 2). In addition these heavy metals are in various ways harmful to the human body: in high concentrations or when they have accumulated over a long time in the body they damage the nervous system (Pb, Hg, Cd, As), give rise to kidney damage (Cd, Pb, As) and possibly increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases (Hg, Pb, As) or the risk for osteoporosis (Cd).

Food items take in heavy metals from the environment, e.g. cereals from the soil and fish from the water. If the dietary intake of heavy metals is too high, the children are at the greatest risk because their intake per body weight is higher than that of adults. In addition, children are more sensitive than adults to the damage and developmental disorders caused by heavy metals, because their bodies are still developing. The nervous system of children is especially sensitive.

The arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead contents are determined in those food groups which are used the most in the diet and which have been found to contain heavy metals in European studies. These groups are: cereals and cereal products, vegetables, roots and fruit, meat and meat products, fish and seafood, milk and water.

Direct link to report (in Finnish)

Risk assessment on the dietary heavy metal exposure of Finnish children


2011 - 2015



Project group

Johanna Suomi / Evira
Pirkko Tuominen / Evira
Kirsti Savela / Evira

Project publications

Risk assessment on the dietary heavy metal exposure of Finnish children. Evira Research Reports 2/2015 (pdf)

Johanna Suomi, Pirkko Tuominen & Kirsti Savela (2017) Dietary exposure of Finnish children to heavy metal mixture – a cumulative assessment, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal, 23:5, 1234-1248, DOI: 10.1080/10807039.2017.1314760

Johanna Suomi, Pirkko Tuominen, Sari Niinistö, Suvi M. Virtanen & Kirsti Savela (2018) Dietary heavy metal exposure of Finnish children of 3 to 6 years, Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 35:7, 1305-1315, DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2018.1480065

Johanna Suomi, Pirkko Tuominen, Sari Niinistö, Suvi M. Virtanen & Kirsti Savela (2019) Dietary heavy metal exposure of Finnish 1-year-olds, AIMS Agriculture and Food, 2019, 4(3): 778-793. DOI: 10.3934/agrfood.2019.3.778.

More information on the project

Johanna Suomi, Risk Assessment Research Unit.
Tel. +358 40 822 5629,