Exposure to arsenic and lead and neuropsychological development in Mexican children

Environ Res. 2001 Feb;85(2):69-76. doi: 10.1006/enrs.2000.4106.


This cross-sectional study examined the effects of chronic exposure to lead (Pb), arsenic (AS) and undernutrition on the neuropsychological development of children. Two populations chronically exposed to either high (41 children) or low (39 children) levels of As and Pb were analyzed using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised Version, for México (WISC-RM). Geometric means of urinary arsenic (AsU) and lead in blood (PbB) were 62.9+/-0.03 (microgAs/g creatinine) and 8.9+/-0.03 (microg/dl) for the exposed group and 40.2+/-0.03 (microgAs/g creatinine) and 9.7+/-0.02 (microg/dl) for the reference group. The height for age index (HAI) was used as an indicator of chronic malnutrition and sociodemographic information was obtained with a questionnaire. Lead and arsenic were measured by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Data on full, verbal, and performance intelligence quotients (IQ) scores, long-term memory, linguistic abstraction, attention span, and visuospatial organization were obtained through the WISC-RM. After controlling for significant potential confounders verbal IQ (P<0.01) decreased with increasing concentrations of AsU. The HAI correlated positively with full-scale and performance IQ (P<0.01). Higher levels of AsU were significantly related to poorer performance on WISC-RM factors examining long-term memory and linguistic abstraction, while lower scores in WISC-RM factors measuring attention were obtained at increasing values of PbB. Our results suggest that exposure to As and chronic malnutrition could have an influence on verbal abilities and long-term memory, while Pb exposure could affect the attention process even at low levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Mexico
  • Nutrition Disorders* / complications*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Lead
  • Arsenic