Fetal exposure to mercury and lead from intrauterine blood transfusions

Pediatr Res. 2019 Oct;86(4):510-514. doi: 10.1038/s41390-019-0463-z. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


Background: Mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) exposure during childhood is associated with irreversible neurodevelopmental effects. Fetal exposure to Hg and Pb from intrauterine blood transfusion (IUBT) has not been reported.

Methods: Fetal exposure was estimated based on transfusion volume and metal concentration in donor packed red blood cell (PRBCs). As biomarkers to quantify prenatal exposure are unknown, Hg and Pb in donor PRBCs were compared to estimated intravenous (IV) RfDs based on gastrointestinal absorption.

Results: Three pregnant women received 8 single-donor IUBTs with volumes ranging from 19 to 120 mL/kg. Hg and Pb were present in all donor PRBC units. In all, 1/8 IUBT resulted in Hg dose five times higher than the estimated IV RfD. Median Pb dose in one fetus who received 5 single-donor IUBTs between 20-32 weeks gestation was 3.4 μg/kg (range 0.5-7.9 μg/kg). One donor unit contained 12.9 μg/dL of Pb, resulting in a fetal dose of 7.9 μg/kg, 40 times higher than the estimated IV RfD at 20 weeks gestation.

Conclusion: This is the first study documenting inadvertent exposure to Hg and Pb from IUBT and quantifying the magnitude of exposure. Screening of donor blood is warranted to prevent toxic effects from Hg and Pb to the developing fetus.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Hemolytic / therapy*
  • Blood Transfusion, Intrauterine / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Erythrocytes / cytology
  • Female
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Hematocrit
  • Humans
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood / prevention & control
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Neurotoxins / blood
  • Placenta
  • Pregnancy


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Neurotoxins
  • Lead
  • Mercury