Dietary heavy metal exposure of Finnish adults

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has estimated that for a part of the adult population, the dietary exposure from foods and drinking water can exceed the safe limits for cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), arsenic (As), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni) and aluminium (Al). The EFSA assessments are based on concentrations measured in foods or food ingredients (raw agricultural commodities) in the EU Member States, and the majority of the data originates from Central Europe. The heavy metal levels in foods produced or sold in Finland may be different from those used in the EFSA calculations, as the soil, fertilization, and plant cultivars are among the factors affecting the heavy metal uptake of plants and animals feeding on them.

Cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel and the metalloid arsenic are considered as heavy metals. Aluminium will also be studied in this project, because it is suspected to damage the central nervous system. Many of the heavy metals also damage the central nervous system: the evidence for lead and mercury is the strongest, but there is additionally some evidence for nervous system damage caused by cadmium and arsenic.

The heavy metal exposure of Finnish adults will be assessed using concentration data measured from foods or their ingredients in Finland (monitoring samples, samples analysed in previous research projects), but the data will be supplemented by literature data from within the EU if there are no Finnish results for particular food items. The food consumption data to be used in the exposure assessment were collected in FINDIET 2007 and FINDIET 2012 studies from Finnish adults aged 25 to 74 years, and the data will be used at the food ingredient level.

For each of the studied compounds, the exposure levels in the studied age group will be assessed and the sources of exposure will be identified both for the general population and for the part of the population with the highest exposure. In addition, cumulative exposure to all six compounds will be estimated as accurately as the available information allows. The most interesting population group in the project is females of child-bearing age, as dietary heavy metals can, to some extent, pass through the placenta into the foetus. Unborn and young children are more sensitive than adults to adverse health effects caused by heavy metals. Since the food consumption data were collected in two different years (2007 and 2012), the heavy metal exposure of the Finnish adult population can be compared between the years.


2017 - 2019



Project group

Johanna Suomi / Finnish Food Authority
Kimmo Suominen / Finnish Food Authority
Pirkko Tuominen / Finnish Food Authority

More information

Johanna Suomi, Risk Assessment Research Unit