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Re-evaluation of blood mercury, lead and cadmium concentrations in the Inuit population of Nunavik (Québec): a cross-sectional study

Author(s): Fontaine Julie | Dewailly Éric | Benedetti Jean-Louis | Pereg Daria | Ayotte Pierre | Déry Serge

Journal: Environmental Health : A Global Access Science Source
ISSN 1476-069X

Volume: 7;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 25;
Date: 2008;
Original page

Abstract Background Arctic populations are exposed to mercury, lead and cadmium through their traditional diet. Studies have however shown that cadmium exposure is most often attributable to tobacco smoking. The aim of this study is to examine the trends in mercury, lead and cadmium exposure between 1992 and 2004 in the Inuit population of Nunavik (Northern Québec, Canada) using the data obtained from two broad scale health surveys, and to identify sources of exposure in 2004. Methods In 2004, 917 adults aged between 18 and 74 were recruited in the 14 communities of Nunavik to participate to a broad scale health survey. Blood samples were collected and analysed for metals by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, and dietary and life-style characteristics were documented by questionnaires. Results were compared with data obtained in 1992, where 492 people were recruited for a similar survey in the same population. Results Mean blood concentration of mercury was 51.2 nmol/L, which represent a 32% decrease (p < 0.001) between 1992 and 2004. Mercury blood concentrations were mainly explained by age (partial r2 = 0.20; p < 0.0001), and the most important source of exposure to mercury was marine mammal meat consumption (partial r2 = 0.04; p < 0.0001). In 2004, mean blood concentration of lead was 0.19 μmol/L and showed a 55% decrease since 1992. No strong associations were observed with any dietary source, and lead concentrations were mainly explained by age (partial r2 = 0.20.; p < 0.001). Blood cadmium concentrations showed a 22% decrease (p < 0.001) between 1992 and 2004. Once stratified according to tobacco use, means varied between 5.3 nmol/L in never-smokers and 40.4 nmol/L in smokers. Blood cadmium concentrations were mainly associated with tobacco smoking (partial r2 = 0.56; p < 0.0001), while consumption of caribou liver and kidney remain a minor source of cadmium exposure among never-smokers. Conclusion Important decreases in mercury, lead and cadmium exposure were observed. Mercury decrease could be explained by dietary changes and the ban of lead cartridges use likely contributed to the decrease in lead exposure. Blood cadmium concentrations remain high and, underscoring the need for intensive tobacco smoking prevention campaigns in the Nunavik population.
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