Levels and temporal variations of urinary lead, cadmium, cobalt, and copper exposure in the general population of Taiwan

  • Kai-Wei Liao
  • Wen-Harn Pan
  • Saou-Hsing Liou
  • Chien-Wen Sun
  • Po-Chin HuangEmail author
  • Shu-Li WangEmail author
Research Article


Toxic metal contamination in food products and the environment is a public health concern. Therefore, understanding human exposure to cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), cobalt (Co), and copper (Cu) levels in the general population of Taiwan is necessary and urgent. We aimed to establish the human biomonitoring data of urine toxic metals, exposure profile changes, and factors associated with metal levels in the general population of Taiwan. We randomly selected 1601 participants older than 7 years of age (36.9 ± 18.7 years (7–84 years)) from the Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan (NAHSIT) conducted during 1993–1996 (93–96) and 2005–2008 (05–08) periods and measured the levels of four metals in the participants’ urine samples using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. The median (range) levels of urinary Cd, Pb, Co, and Cu in participants from the NAHSIT 93–96 (N = 821)/05–08 (N = 780) were 0.60 (ND–13.90)/0.72 (ND–7.44), 2.28 (ND–63.60)/1.09 (0.04–48.88), 0.91 (0.08–17.30)/1.05 (0.05–22.43), and 16.87 (2.62–158.28)/13.66 (1.67–189.70) μg/L, respectively. We found that the urinary median levels of Pb and Cu in our participants were significantly lower in the NAHSIT 05–08 (Pb 1.09 μg/L, Cu 13.66 μg/L) than in the NAHSIT 93–96 (Pb 2.28 μg/L, Cu 16.87 μg/L; P < 0.01), whereas those of Cd and Co were significantly higher in the NAHSIT 05–08 (Cd 0.72 μg/L, Co 1.05 μg/L; P < 0.01). Youths had higher exposure levels of Pb, Co, and Cu than adults. Participants with alcohol consumption, betel quid chewing, or cigarette smoking had significantly higher median levels of urinary Pb or Cu (P < 0.01) than those without. Principal components and cluster analysis revealed that sex had different exposure profiles of metals. We concluded that levels of urinary Cd, Pb, Co, and Cu exposure in the general Taiwanese varied by age, sex, and lifestyles.


Taiwan Human biomonitoring General population Metals Urine 





Canadian Health Measures Survey






German Environmental Survey


Geometric mean


Geometric standard deviation


Human biomonitoring


Hierarchical clustering analysis


International Agency for Research on Cancer


Inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry


Korea National Survey for Environmental Pollutants in the Human Body


Limit of detection


Method detection limit


Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan


National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey


National Health Research Institutes


National Institute of Environmental Analysis




Principal component analysis


Standard reference material



We thank Dr. Jein-Wen Chen, Dr. Ya-Tang Liao, Dr. Yu-Te Chung, Dr. Hsiu-Ying Ku, and Mr. Yun-Hsiang Liu from the NHRI in Taiwan for their assistance with data and specimen collection.

Authors’ contributions

PCH, SLW, SHL, and WHP conceived and designed the experiments. CWS performed the experiments. KWL analyzed the data. PCH and SLW contributed the reagents, materials, and analysis tools. KWL, PCH, and SLW wrote the paper. WHP directed the specimens and questionnaire collection. PCH and SLW contributed to the critical revision of the manuscript.

Funding information

This study was funded by the NHRI (EO-99-SP-02, EM-105-PP-05, EH-102-PP-05, EH-103-PP-05, EM-105-SP-16, EM-105-PP-15, EM-106-PP12, EM-107-PP12).

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3911_MOESM1_ESM.docx (467 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 466 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kai-Wei Liao
    • 1
  • Wen-Harn Pan
    • 2
    • 3
  • Saou-Hsing Liou
    • 1
    • 4
  • Chien-Wen Sun
    • 1
  • Po-Chin Huang
    • 1
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  • Shu-Li Wang
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
    Email author
  1. 1.National Institute of Environmental Health SciencesNational Health Research InstitutesZhunanTaiwan
  2. 2.Institute of Biomedical SciencesAcademia SinicaTaipeiTaiwan
  3. 3.Division of Preventive Medicine and Health Service Research, Institute of Population Health SciencesNational Health Research InstitutesMiaoliTaiwan
  4. 4.Department of Public HealthNational Defense Medical CenterTaipeiTaiwan
  5. 5.Research Center for Environmental MedicineKaohsiung Medical UniversityKaohsiungTaiwan
  6. 6.Department of Safety, Health and Environmental EngineeringNational United UniversityMiaoliTaiwan
  7. 7.Department of Public Health, College of Public HealthChina Medical UniversityTaichungTaiwan

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