Prevalence of fetal exposure to environmental toxins as determined by meconium analysis

Neurotoxicology. 2002 Sep;23(3):329-39. doi: 10.1016/s0161-813x(02)00077-3.


Objective: The primary objective was to determine whether environmental pollutants, specifically lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), arsenic (As) and organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides can be detected in meconium.

Study design: Prospective, cohort study. Infants were randomly recruited from the nurseries of five hospitals in Manila, Philippines. Their stools (meconium) were collected and analyzed for heavy metals by atomic absorption spectrophotometry and for pesticides by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GCMS).

Results: A total of 426 infants were studied. The exposure rate (based on meconium analysis) and the median concentration of the pollutants in the positive samples were as follows: lead (26.5%; 35.77 microg/ml), cadmium (8.5%; 13.37 microg/ml), mercury (83.9%; 3.17 ng/ml), chlordane (12.7%; 22.48 microg/ml), chlorpyrifos (11.0%; 8.26 microg/ml), diazinon (34.3%; 12.96 microg/ml), DDT (26.5%; 12.56 microg/ml), lindane (73.5%; 2.0 microg/ml), malathion (53.0; 6.80 microg/ml), parathion (32.0%; 2.30 microg/ml) and pentachlorphenol (16.1%; 90.00 microg/ml). Some maternal and neonatal factors that were significantly associated with the presence of environmental toxins in meconium included multi-gravidity, multiparity, multiple gestation, meconium stained fluid, smoking, gestational age, low birth weight and infant gender.

Conclusion: Meconium analysis is a new and sensitive tool to detect fetal exposure to environmental toxins and its clinical use awaits further investigation.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Fetus / metabolism*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insecticides / analysis
  • Male
  • Meconium / chemistry*
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Philippines
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Insecticides
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Organophosphorus Compounds