Blood levels of toxic metals and rare earth elements commonly found in e-waste may exert subtle effects on hemoglobin concentration in sub-Saharan immigrants

Environ Int. 2017 Dec;109:20-28. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.023. Epub 2017 Sep 17.


Pollution by heavy metals and more recently by rare earth elements (REE) and other minor elements (ME) has increased due in part to their high use in technological and electronic devices. This contamination can become very relevant in those sites where e-waste is improperly processed, as it is the case in many countries of the African continent. Exposure to some toxic elements has been associated to certain hematological disorders, specifically anemia. In this study, the concentrations of 48 elements (including REE and other ME) were determined by ICP-MS in whole blood samples of sub-Saharan immigrants with anemia (n=63) and without anemia (n=78). We found that the levels of Fe, Cr, Cu, Mn, Mo, and Se were significantly higher in the control group than in the anemia group, suggesting that anemia was mainly due to nutritional deficiencies. However, since other authors have suggested that in addition to nutritional deficiency, exposure to some elements may influence hemoglobin levels, we wanted to explore the role of a broad panel of toxic and "emerging" elements in hemoglobin deficiency. We found that the levels of Ag, As, Ba, Bi, Ce, Eu, Er, Ga, La, Nb, Nd, Pb, Pr, Sm, Sn, Ta, Th, Tl, U and V were higher in anemic participants than in controls. For most of these elements an inverse correlation with hemoglobin concentration was found. Some of them also correlated inversely with blood iron levels, pointing to the possibility that a higher rate of intestinal uptake of these could exist in relation to a nutritional deficiency of iron. However, the higher levels of Pb, and the group of REE and other ME in anemic participants were independent of iron levels, pointing to the possibility that these elements could play a role in the development of anemia.

Keywords: Anemia; Canary Islands; Heavy metals; Human biomonitoring; Immigrants; Rare earth elements.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / ethnology
  • Anemia / blood*
  • Anemia / ethnology
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Electronic Waste*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hazardous Substances / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metals, Heavy / blood*
  • Metals, Rare Earth / blood*
  • Middle Aged
  • Spain
  • Young Adult


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Metals, Rare Earth