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Factors influencing the difference between maternal and cord blood lead
  1. E W Harville1,
  2. I Hertz-Picciotto1,
  3. M Schramm3,
  4. M Watt-Morse3,
  5. K Chantala2,
  6. J Osterloh4,
  7. P J Parsons5,
  8. W Rogan6
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, USA
  2. 2Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, USA
  3. 3Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Magee-Womens Hospital, USA
  4. 4Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, USA
  5. 5Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, USA
  6. 6Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr E W Harville
 CB #7435, Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7435, USA;


Aims: To determine the factors that affect why some infants receive higher exposures relative to the mother’s body burden than do others.

Methods: A total of 159 mother-infant pairs from a cohort of women receiving prenatal care at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA from 1992 to 1995 provided blood samples at delivery for lead determination. The difference between cord and maternal blood lead concentration (PbB) and a dichotomous variable indicator of higher cord than maternal PbB, were examined as indicators of relative transfer. Women were interviewed twice during the pregnancy about lifestyle, medical history, calcium nutrition, and physical activity.

Results: Higher blood pressure was associated with relatively greater cord compared with maternal PbB, as was maternal alcohol use. Sickle cell trait and higher haemoglobin were associated with a lower cord relative to maternal blood lead PbB. No association was seen with smoking, physical exertion, or calcium consumption.

Conclusion: While reduction in maternal exposure will reduce fetal exposure, it may also be possible to mitigate infant lead exposure by reducing transfer from the pregnant woman. Interventions aimed at reducing blood pressure and alcohol consumption during pregnancy may be useful in this regard.

  • AAS, atomic absorption spectroscopy
  • ALA-D, δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase
  • BMI, body mass index
  • CLIA, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment of 1988
  • Hb, haemoglobin
  • PbB, blood lead concentration
  • RBC, red blood cell
  • lead
  • pregnancy
  • fetal intoxication
  • cord blood
  • low levels

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  • Competing interests: none declared