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Maternal exposure to arsenic and mercury in small-scale gold mining areas of Northern Tanzania

Nyanza, Elias C., Bernier, Francois P., Manyama, Mange, Hatfield, Jennifer, Martin, Jonathan W., Dewey, Deborah
Environmental research 2019 v.173 pp. 432-442
arsenic, blood, children, cross-sectional studies, education, environmental monitoring, exposure pathways, gold, humans, longitudinal studies, maternal exposure, mercury, mining, normal values, pollution, pregnancy, pregnancy complications, pregnant women, public health, socioeconomic status, toxic substances, traditional technology, urine, Tanzania
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in Tanzania results in occupational exposures and environmental contamination to toxic chemical elements such as arsenic and mercury. Populations living in such areas may be exposed by various routes, and prenatal exposure to arsenic and mercury has been associated with adverse birth outcomes and developmental delays. The aim of this study was to determine if levels of arsenic and mercury differed among pregnant women living in areas with and without ASGM activities in Northern Tanzania. This cross-sectional study is part of the ongoing Mining and Health prospective longitudinal study. Spot urine samples and dried blood spots were collected at the antenatal health clinics from pregnant women (n = 1056) at 16–27 weeks gestation. Urine samples were analyzed for total arsenic (T-As) and dried blood spots were analyzed for total mercury (T-Hg). Women in the ASGM cohort had median T-As levels (9.4 μg/L; IQR: 4.9-15.1) and T-Hg levels (1.2 μg/L; IQR: 0.8-1.86) that were significantly higher than the median T-As levels (6.28 μg/L; IQR: 3.7-14.1) and T-Hg levels (0.66 μg/L; IQR: 0.3-1.2) of women in the non-ASGM cohort (Mann-Whitney U test, T-As: z = −9.881, p = 0.0005; T-Hg: z = −3.502, p < 0.0001). Among pregnant women from ASGM areas, 25% had urinary T-As and 75% had blood T-Hg above the established human biomonitoring reference values of 15 and 0.80 μg/L. In the ASGM cohort, lower maternal education and low socioeconomic status increased the odds of higher T-As levels by 20% (p < 0.05) and 10% (p < 0.05), respectively. Women involved in mining activities and those of low socioeconomic status had increased odds of higher T-Hg by 70% (p < 0.001) and 10% (p < 0.05), respectively. Arsenic and mercury concentrations among women in non-ASGM areas suggest exposure sources beyond ASGM activities that need to be identified. Arsenic and mercury levels in women in Tanzania are of public health concern and their association with adverse birth and child developmental outcomes will be examined in future studies on this cohort.