We conducted this study to evaluate blood levels of lead, mercury, and organochlorine compounds in newborns in the Province of Quebec. During 1993 to 1995, we carried out a survey in 10 hospitals located in southern Quebec. During that time, umbilical cord blood samples were obtained from 1109 newborns, and we analyzed each for lead, mercury, 14 polychlorinated biphenyl congeners, and 11 chlorinated pesticides. We used the geometric mean and 95% confidence interval (CI) to describe the results. Mean concentrations of lead and mercury in cord blood were 0.076 micromol/l (95% CI = 0.074, 0.079) and 4.82 nmol/l (95% CI = 4.56, 5.08), respectively. The mean concentrations of total polychlorinated biphenyls (Aroclor 1260) and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene were 0.514 microg/I (95% CI = .493, 0.536) and 0.412 microg/l (95% CI = 0.390, 0.435), respectively. We observed a statistically significant relationship between maternal age and cord blood concentrations of (a) lead, (b) mercury, (c) polychlorinated biphenyls, and (d) dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene. In addition, maternal smoking during pregnancy was associated with cord blood lead levels. The cord blood concentrations of lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene we measured in our study were the lowest levels recently reported in industrialized countries. The results of this study underline the role of public health authorities in the evaluation of biological levels of environmental contaminants among children for the assessment of risk of adverse health effects.
Analyses completed on samples collected between 1993 and 1996 showed that about 7% of 475 Inuit newborns from northern Quebec (Canada) had a cord blood lead concentration equal to or greater than 0.48 micromol/l, an intervention level adopted by many governmental agencies. A comparison between the cord blood lead isotope ratios of Inuit and southern Quebec newborns showed that lead sources for these populations were different. Our investigation suggests that lead shots used for game hunting were an important source of lead exposure in the Inuit population. A cohort study conducted in three Inuit communities shows a significant decrease of cord blood lead concentrations after a public health intervention to reduce the use of lead shot. Lead shot ammunition can be a major and preventable source of human exposure to lead.
This article documents the exposure to environmental contaminants within sub-groups of the Canadian population who are considered to be at risk as a result of the food they eat. We measured the concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury in the blood drawn from the umbilical cords of newborns in various Aboriginal communities, in a coastal community and in the general population. Average concentrations of Aroclor 1260 ranged between 0.3 and 2.0 micrograms/L and were clearly highest among the Inuit of Nunavik and Baffin Island and among the Montagnais of Quebec. In these groups, we found contaminant levels in the blood of newborns that exceed the threshold beyond which cognitive impairments are expected to result. Average concentrations of mercury ranged between 1.0 and 14.2 micrograms/L; the Inuit of Nunavik and the NWT exhibited the highest exposure levels. A portion of the Nunavik and NWT Inuit had concentrations beyond the critical threshold for the appearance of neurological consequences. The variations in exposure levels resulted from the different nutritional practices of these Canadian sub-groups.