Urinary concentrations of heavy metals in pregnant women living near a petrochemical area according to the industrial activity

Environ Res. 2023 Oct 15:235:116677. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.116677. Epub 2023 Jul 14.


Background: The progressive industrialization has resulted in an increase in heavy metal pollution in the environment, which has a dangerous impact on human health. Prenatal exposure to heavy metals, even at very low concentrations, may be especially harmful to pregnant women and their children. Different industrial activities can contribute to heavy metal pollution in a specific area.

Objective: 1) To explore the concentrations of heavy metals in urine samples of pregnant women, and 2) to evaluate the potential effect of different industrial activities in Tarragona (Spain).

Methods: Urinary levels of four heavy metals (nickel (Ni), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), and lead (Pb)) from 368 pregnant women recruited in the ECLIPSES study were analyzed. Home addresses and all the industries potentially releasing heavy metals were geo-referenced. Buffer zones were established within a 1.5, 3, and 5 km radius at the center of each industry. Subsequently, the number of participants living in and out of each buffer zone was recorded.

Results: Urinary levels of Ni and Cd, but not those of Hg and Pb, were obviously increased in pregnant women living near most of the industrial sites. After adjustment for potential co-variates, only Cd showed notable differences according to the industrial activity. Compared to women living outside the buffer, Cd levels were increased in those living within 1.5 and 3 km of chemical industries, within 5 km of energy industries, within 1.5, 3, and 5 km of mineral industries, and within 3 and 5 km of metal processing industries.

Conclusion: Among the analyzed heavy metals, Cd showed an increasing trend in urinary concentrations in women living near chemical, energy, mineral, and metal processing industries. This study highlights the need to develop legislative measures to minimize Cd exposure, especially by sensitive populations. Moreover, additive or synergistic effects of co-exposure to other air pollutants should not be disregarded.

Keywords: Cadmium; Heavy metals; Industry activity; Pregnant women; Urine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cadmium
  • Child
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lead
  • Mercury*
  • Metals, Heavy* / analysis
  • Nickel
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil Pollutants* / analysis


  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Mercury
  • Nickel
  • Soil Pollutants