Childhood chromium exposure and neuropsychological development in children living in two polluted areas in southern Spain

Environ Pollut. 2019 Sep;252(Pt B):1550-1560. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.06.084. Epub 2019 Jun 26.


This study aimed to assess the association between exposure to chromium and neuropsychological development among children. A cross-sectional study was conducted with 393 children aged 6-11 years old randomly selected from State-funded schools in two provinces in Southern Spain (Almeria and Huelva), in 2010 and 2012. Chromium levels in urine and hair samples were analyzed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry with an octopole reaction system. Neuropsychological development was evaluated using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) and three computerized tests from the Behavioural Assessment and Research System (BARS): Reaction Time Test (RTT), Continuous Performance Test (CPT) and Selective Attention Test (SAT). Multivariable linear regression models adjusted for potential confounders, including heavy metals, were applied to examine the association between chromium levels and neuropsychological outcomes. A 10-fold increase in urine chromium levels was associated with a decrease of 5.99 points on the WISC-IV Full-Scale IQ (95% CI: 11.98 to -0.02). Likewise, a 10-fold increase in urine chromium levels in boys was associated with a decrease of 0.03 points in the percentage of omissions (95% CI: 0.0 to 0.05) in the SAT, with an increase of 68.35 points in latency (95% CI: 6.60 to 130.12) in the RTT, and with an increase in the number of trials with latencies > 1000 ms (β = 37.92; 95% CI: 2.73 to 73.12) in the RTT. An inverse significant association was detected between chromium levels in hair and latency in the SAT in boys (β = -50.53; 95% CI: 86.86 to -14.22) and girls (β = -55.95; 95% CI: 78.93 to -32.97). Excluding trials with latencies >1000 ms in the RTT increased latency scores by 29.36 points in boys (95% CI: 0.17 to 58.57), and 39.91 points in girls (95% CI: 21.25 to 58.59). This study is the first to show the detrimental effects of postnatal chromium exposure on neuropsychological development in school-aged children.

Keywords: Behavioural assessment; Children; Chromium; Neuropsychological development.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Chromium / analysis*
  • Chromium / urine
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Random Allocation
  • Spain


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Chromium