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McDermott et al., 2019

McDermott, S., Hailer, M. K., & Lead, J. R.; “Meconium identifies high levels of metals in newborns from a mining community in the U.S;” Science of the Total Environment, 2019, 135528; DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135528.


BACKGROUND: This pilot study was conducted to determine if we could identify intrauterine exposure to metals in meconium, as a measure of exposure for mother-child pairs living in proximity to a mining operation.

OBJECTIVES: We used meconium as a means to measure metal exposure in utero. We set out to quantify the exposure to selected metals that are currently being mined and also are found in the Superfund site in Butte, Montana, and to compare it to that of Columbia, South Carolina, US, where mining is not occurring.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study was conducted between May and November 2018. We received Institutional Review Board approval and we consented women following the birth of their newborns, and collected meconium within 24 h of birth, without any identifiers. Each laboratory used the same protocol for collection, transport, and storage; and the same laboratory protocol was used for the analysis of all samples. Samples were digested using standard acid/peroxide digestion methods and measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy.

RESULTS: We collected meconium specimens from 17 infants in Columbia, South Carolina and 15 infants in Butte, Montana. The concentrations found in Columbia were in the low mug kg(-1) range (or less) and were similar to the low levels that have been identified in other studies of meconium. The magnitude of the differences in concentrations found in Butte compared to Columbia was 1792 times higher for Cu, 1650 times higher for Mn, and 1883 times higher for Zn.

CONCLUSION: Using meconium to measure exposure of newborns has implications for risk assessment in a mining-exposed population. This approach was inexpensive and thorough. The magnitude of the differences in the metal levels identified from the two study sites suggests there is an urgent need for further research to learn if there are health consequences to these highly exposed infants. FULL TEXT

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