Metal mixtures in urban and rural populations in the US: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and the Strong Heart Study

Environ Res. 2016 May:147:356-64. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.02.032. Epub 2016 Mar 2.


Background: Natural and anthropogenic sources of metal exposure differ for urban and rural residents. We searched to identify patterns of metal mixtures which could suggest common environmental sources and/or metabolic pathways of different urinary metals, and compared metal-mixtures in two population-based studies from urban/sub-urban and rural/town areas in the US: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Strong Heart Study (SHS).

Methods: We studied a random sample of 308 White, Black, Chinese-American, and Hispanic participants in MESA (2000-2002) and 277 American Indian participants in SHS (1998-2003). We used principal component analysis (PCA), cluster analysis (CA), and linear discriminant analysis (LDA) to evaluate nine urinary metals (antimony [Sb], arsenic [As], cadmium [Cd], lead [Pb], molybdenum [Mo], selenium [Se], tungsten [W], uranium [U] and zinc [Zn]). For arsenic, we used the sum of inorganic and methylated species (∑As).

Results: All nine urinary metals were higher in SHS compared to MESA participants. PCA and CA revealed the same patterns in SHS, suggesting 4 distinct principal components (PC) or clusters (∑As-U-W, Pb-Sb, Cd-Zn, Mo-Se). In MESA, CA showed 2 large clusters (∑As-Mo-Sb-U-W, Cd-Pb-Se-Zn), while PCA showed 4 PCs (Sb-U-W, Pb-Se-Zn, Cd-Mo, ∑As). LDA indicated that ∑As, U, W, and Zn were the most discriminant variables distinguishing MESA and SHS participants.

Conclusions: In SHS, the ∑As-U-W cluster and PC might reflect groundwater contamination in rural areas, and the Cd-Zn cluster and PC could reflect common sources from meat products or metabolic interactions. Among the metals assayed, ∑As, U, W and Zn differed the most between MESA and SHS, possibly reflecting disproportionate exposure from drinking water and perhaps food in rural Native communities compared to urban communities around the US.

Keywords: Biomarker; Exposure sources; Metals; Statistical methods; Urine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arsenic / urine*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Tungsten / urine*
  • United States
  • Uranium / urine*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data


  • Uranium
  • Arsenic
  • Tungsten