Environmental exposures to lead, mercury, and cadmium among South Korean teenagers (KNHANES 2010–2013): Body burden and risk factors

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Limited information is available on the association of age and sex with blood concentrations of heavy metals in teenagers. In addition, factors such as a shared family environment may have an association. We analyzed data from the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES, 2010–2013) to determine whether blood levels of heavy metals differ by risk factors such as age, sex, and shared family environment in a representative sample of teenagers.


This study used data obtained in the KNHANES 2010–2013, which had a rolling sampling design that involved a complex, stratified, multistage, probability-cluster survey of a representative sample of the non-institutionalized civilian population in South Korea. Our cross-sectional analysis was restricted to teenagers and their parents who completed the health examination survey, and for whom blood measurements of cadmium, lead, and mercury were available. The final analytical sample consisted of 1585 teenagers, and 376 fathers and 399 mothers who provided measurements of blood heavy metal concentrations.


Male teenagers had greater blood levels of lead and mercury, but sex had no association with blood cadmium level. There were age-related increases in blood cadmium, but blood lead decreased with age, and age had little association with blood mercury. The concentrations of cadmium and mercury declined from 2010 to 2013. The blood concentrations of lead, cadmium, and mercury in teenagers were positively associated with the levels in their parents after adjustment for covariates.


Our results show that blood heavy metal concentrations differ by risk factors such as age, sex, and shared family environment in teenagers.

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