Background: The people of Bangladesh are currently exposed to high concentrations of arsenic and manganese in drinking water, as well as elevated lead in many regions. The objective of this study was to investigate associations between environmental exposure to these contaminants and neurodevelopmental outcomes among Bangladeshi children.
Methods: We evaluated data from 524 children, members of an ongoing prospective birth cohort established to study the effects of prenatal and early childhood arsenic exposure in the Sirajdikhan and Pabna Districts of Bangladesh. Water was collected from the family's primary drinking source during the first trimester of pregnancy and at ages 1, 12 and 20-40 months. At age 20-40 months, blood lead was measured and neurodevelopmental outcomes were assessed using a translated, culturally-adapted version of the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition (BSID-III).
Results: Median blood lead concentrations were higher in Sirajdikhan than Pabna (7.6 vs. <LODμg/dL, p <0.0001) and water arsenic concentrations were lower (1.5 vs 25.7 μg/L, p <0.0001). Increased blood lead was associated with decreased cognitive scores in Sirajdikhan (β = -0.17, SE = 0.09, p = 0.05), whereas increased water arsenic was associated with decreased cognitive scores in Pabna (β = -0.06, SE = 0.03, p = 0.05). Water manganese was associated with fine motor scores in an inverse-U relationship in Pabna.
Conclusion: Where blood lead levels are high, lead is associated with decreased cognitive scores on the BSID-III, and effects of other metals are not detected. In the setting of lower lead levels, the adverse effects of arsenic and manganese on neurodevelopment are observed.
Keywords: Arsenic; Cognitive function; Lead; Manganese.