Background: Exposure to environmental heavy metals is common among African children. Although many of these metals are known neurotoxicants, to date, monitoring of this exposure is limited, even in countries such as Uganda that are undergoing rapid industrialization. An assessment of the burden and potential causes of metal exposure is a critical first step in gauging the public health burden of metal exposure and in guiding its elimination. Methods: In May 2016, we enrolled 100 children between the ages of 6 and 59 months living in the Katanga urban settlement of Kampala, Uganda. We measured whole blood concentrations of antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, nickel, selenium, and zinc. Applying reference cutoffs, we identified metals whose prevalence of elevated blood concentrations was > 10%. We also administered an environmental questionnaire to each child's caregiver to assess potential exposures, including source of drinking water, cooking location and fuel, materials used for roof, walls, and floor, and proximity to potential pollution sources such as main roads, garbage landfills, and fuel stations. We compared log-transformed blood metal concentrations by exposure category, using t-test for dichotomous comparisons and ANOVA for comparisons of three categories, using Tukeys test to adjust for multiple comparisons. Results: The prevalence of high blood levels was elevated for six of the metals: antimony (99%), copper (12%), cadmium (17%), cobalt (19.2%), lead (97%), and manganese (36.4%). Higher blood manganese was significantly associated with having cement walls (p = 0.04) or floors (p = 0.04). Cadmium was greater among children who attended school (< 0.01), and cobalt was higher among children who lived near a garbage landfill (p = 0.01). Conclusions: Heavy metal exposure is prevalent in the Katanga settlement and may limit neurodevelopment of children living there. Future studies are needed to definitively identify the sources of exposure and to correct potential nutritional deficiencies that may worsen metal absorption.
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© 2018 The Author(s).