Exposure to arsenic and lead of children living near a copper-smelter in San Luis Potosi, Mexico: Importance of soil contamination for exposure of children

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Abstract

The objective of this study was to assess the levels of soil contamination and child exposure in areas next to a primary smelter (arsenic–copper metallurgical) located in the community of Morales in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. In Morales, 90% of the soil samples studied in this work were above 400mg/kg of lead, and above 100mg/kg of arsenic, which are guidelines recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bioaccessibility of these metals was studied in vitro in 10 soil samples; the median values of bioaccessibility obtained in these samples were 46.5% and 32.5% for arsenic and lead. Since the concentrations of arsenic and lead in soil were above normal values, and taking into account the bioaccessibility results, exposure to these metals was evaluated in children. Regarding lead, children aged 3–6 years had the highest mean blood lead levels; furthermore, 90% of them had concentrations above 10μg/dl (CDC's action level). Total urinary arsenic was higher in children aged 8–9yr; however, the percentage of children with concentrations above 50μg/g creatinine (CDC's action level) or 100μg/g creatinine (World Health Organization [WHO] action level) was similar among different age groups. Using the EPAs integrated exposure uptake biokinetic model for lead in children (IEUBK), we estimated that 87% of the total lead in blood is obtained from the soil/dust pathway. The exposure dose to arsenic, estimated for the children living in Morales using Monte Carlo analysis and the arsenic concentrations found in soil, was above the EPA's reference dose. With all these results, it is evident that studies are needed in order to identify adverse health effects in children living in Morales; nevertheless, it is more important to develop a risk reduction program as soon as possible.

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