Maternal exposure to arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury and neural tube defects in offspring.Environ Res. 2006 May; 101(1):132-9.ER
Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are neurotoxins, and some studies suggest that these elements might also be teratogens. Using a case-control study design, we investigated the relation between exposure to these heavy metals and neural tube defects (NTDs) in offspring of Mexican-American women living in 1 of the 14 Texas counties bordering Mexico. A total of 184 case-women with NTD-affected pregnancies and 225 control-women with normal live births were interviewed about their environmental and occupational exposures during the periconceptional period. Biologic samples for blood lead and urinary arsenic, cadmium, and mercury were also obtained for a subset of these women. Overall, the median levels of these biomarkers for heavy metal exposure did not differ significantly (P > 0.05) between case- and control-women. However, among women in the highest income group, case-women were nine times more likely (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.4-57) than control-women to have a urinary mercury 5.62 microg/L. Case-women were 4.2 times more likely (95% CI 1.1-16) to report burning treated wood during the periconceptional period than control-women. Elevated odds ratios (ORs) were observed for maternal and paternal occupational exposures to arsenic and mercury, but the 95% CIs were consistent with unity. The 95% CIs of the ORs were also consistent with unity for higher levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in drinking water and among women who lived within 2 miles at the time of conception to industrial facilities with reported emissions of any of these heavy metals. Our findings suggest that maternal exposures to arsenic, cadmium, or lead are probably not significant risk factors for NTDs in offspring. However, the elevated urinary mercury levels found in this population and exposures to the combustion of treated wood may warrant further investigation.