Associations between socioeconomic status and environmental toxicant concentrations in adults in the USA: NHANES 2001-2010

Environ Int. 2013 Sep:59:328-35. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.06.017. Epub 2013 Jul 24.


Low level chronic exposure to toxicants is associated with a range of adverse health effects. Understanding the various factors that influence the chemical burden of an individual is of critical importance to public health strategies. We investigated the relationships between socioeconomic status (SES) and bio-monitored chemical concentration in five cross-sectional waves of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). We utilised adjusted linear regression models to investigate the association between 179 toxicants and the poverty income ratio (PIR) for five NHANES waves. We then selected a subset of chemicals associated with PIR in 3 or more NHANES waves and investigated potential mediating factors using structural equation modelling. PIR was associated with 18 chemicals in 3 or more NHANES waves. Higher SES individuals had higher burdens of serum and urinary mercury, arsenic, caesium, thallium, perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorononanoic acid, mono(carboxyoctyl) phthalate and benzophenone-3. Inverse associations were noted between PIR and serum and urinary lead and cadmium, antimony, bisphenol A and three phthalates (mono-benzyl, mono-isobutyl, mono-n-butyl). Key mediators included fish and shellfish consumption for the PIR, mercury, arsenic, thallium and perfluorononanoic acid associations. Sunscreen use was an important mediator in the benzophenone-3/PIR relationship. The association between PIR and cadmium or lead was partially mediated by smoking, occupation and diet. These results provide a comprehensive analysis of exposure patterns as a function of socioeconomic status in US adults, providing important information to guide future public health remediation measures to decrease toxicant and disease burdens within society.

Keywords: Chemical toxicants; Environment; NHANES; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; PIR; Poverty Income Ratio; SES; Socio-economic status; Socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / analysis
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / blood
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / urine
  • Benzophenones / analysis
  • Benzophenones / blood
  • Benzophenones / urine
  • Cadmium / analysis
  • Cadmium / blood
  • Cadmium / urine
  • Caprylates / analysis
  • Caprylates / blood
  • Caprylates / urine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / analysis
  • Fluorocarbons / blood
  • Fluorocarbons / urine
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / blood
  • Mercury / urine
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Phenols / analysis
  • Phenols / blood
  • Phenols / urine
  • Phthalic Acids / analysis
  • Phthalic Acids / blood
  • Phthalic Acids / urine
  • Poverty
  • Social Class*
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Benzophenones
  • Caprylates
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Phenols
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Cadmium
  • phthalic acid
  • perfluorooctanoic acid
  • oxybenzone
  • Mercury
  • bisphenol A