Socioeconomic position and exposure to multiple environmental chemical contaminants in six European mother-child cohorts

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2019 Jun;222(5):864-872. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.04.002. Epub 2019 Apr 19.


Background: Human exposure to environmental chemical contaminants at critical periods of development can lead to lifelong health consequences. Traditionally, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are thought to experience higher contaminant exposures; however, this relationship may not hold for all contaminants.

Methods: Using data from six European birth cohorts (1301 mother-child pairs), we determined biomarkers of exposure to 41 contaminants in biological samples from children (6-12 years) and their mothers during pregnancy, including organochlorine compounds (OCs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), metals, phthalate metabolites, phenols, and organophosphate (OP) pesticide metabolites. We analyzed these biomarkers with several socioeconomic position (SEP) indicators (maternal education, employment status and family affluence scale).

Results: Higher SEP was associated with higher concentrations of several chemicals during pregnancy, including certain PFASs, mercury, arsenic, several phenols, and OP pesticides. Similarly, childhood concentrations of OCs, PFASs, mercury, arsenic, and bisphenol A were higher in higher SEP groups. Conversely, cadmium exposure during pregnancy and exposure to lead and phthalate metabolites in childhood were higher in lower SEP. Principal components representing multiple pollutant exposures showed similar association with SEP.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates that environmental chemical contaminant exposure during fetal and childhood life is not exclusively associated to lower SEP and that for several contaminants higher SEP groups incur higher exposure levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants