Globally, a number of persistent toxic substances, including metals, have been recognized as priority environmental pollutants due to their ubiquitous nature. Metals, specifically lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, have given rise to adverse health effects at low concentrations. Past investigations have highlighted infants, young children, and pregnant women as the most vulnerable groups. In Australia, there is little information about the pattern and levels of metals exposure in the general community and no systematic assessment of exposure in pregnant women and children. Our study aimed to determine the concentration of metals exposure in nonoccupationally exposed pregnant women living in the South West of Western Australia.
A preliminary investigation of exposure was undertaken using biological and environmental sampling in combination with diet diaries and questionnaire information. Samples of blood, urine, and drinking water were collected from 22 participants aged between 26 and 42 years and analyzed for metals by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry.
The concentrations in blood for most metals were in the typical ranges; however, there was some evidence of elevated nickel (mean: 58.7 μg/L, range: <6–879.7 μg/L). Nickel, copper, and cadmium concentrations in urine were elevated for 45%, 36%, and 59% of participants with median concentrations 2.6 μg/L, 9.4 μg/L, and 0.8 μg/L, respectively. The observed median metals concentrations in drinking water were all below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. Additional blood, urine, drinking water as well as soil, dust, and dietary information are currently being analyzed.
These results reveal for most participants concentrations are low; however, there are some elevated exposures, which require additional investigation to identify the source.