Influential Factors on Blood Pb and Hg Concentrations in Koreans over 50 Years Old: Data Analysis of the 1st (2009-2011) and 2nd (2012-2014) KoNEHS

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Objective: Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to environmental pollutants due to the effects of aging. Pb and Hg are heavy metals that can cause elevated environmental pollution and harm humans. With this study, we aimed at collecting Pb and Hg blood concentrations in Koreans over 50 years old in the general population and comparing different factors that might affect these concentrations.

Methods: For this study, we selected a total of 6,681 adults who participated in the 1st and 2nd stage (during 2009-2011 and 2012-2014, respectively) of the Korean National Environmental Health Survey (KoNEHS).

Results: The proportion of women over 65 years old slightly increased from the 1st to 2nd the stage; meanwhile, the Pb and Hg blood concentrations increased and remained stable, respectively. Heavy metals blood concentrations were relatively high compared to those registered in other countries. During the 1st stage, Pb concentration was related to gender (i.e., higher concentrations in males), drinking habits, residential areas (i.e., higher concentrations in the presence of air pollution monitoring stations), and smoking. During the 2nd stage, we did not consider the residential area but the residential type (i.e., higher concentrations living in the detached house). Influential factors affecting Hg concentration during the 1st stage were gender (i.e., higher concentrations in males), fish intake (i.e., daily or weekly), age (i.e., between 50-64 years), seafood consumption during the week (i.e., yes). During the 2nd stage, the body mass index (BMI) (i.e., eventual obesity) was also considered.

Conclusion: The concentration of heavy metals in the blood of adult Koreans was estimated to be higher than in other countries. Hence, exposure levels should be reduced by continuous monitoring and the identification of pollution sources. The outcomes of the present research will ultimately contribute to the prevention of heavy metals exposure, while considering the elderly population characteristics.

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We would like to thank the National Institute of Environmental Research in Korea for providing the KoNEHS data.

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Correspondence to Ryoungme Ahn.

Ethics declarations

The KoNEHS data are openly published, with the approval of the Research Ethics Committee of the National Institute of Environmental Research in Korea. Thus, ethical approval was not required for this study.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest. Author Wookhee Choi declares that she has no conflicts of interest. Author Ryoungme Ahn declares that she has no conflicts of interest. Author Jae Hyoun Kim declares that he has no conflicts of interest.

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Choi, W., Ahn, R. & Kim, J.H. Influential Factors on Blood Pb and Hg Concentrations in Koreans over 50 Years Old: Data Analysis of the 1st (2009-2011) and 2nd (2012-2014) KoNEHS. Toxicol. Environ. Health Sci. 11, 295–304 (2019).

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  • Korean National Environmental Health Survey
  • Human biomonitoring
  • Heavy metals
  • Korean elderly adults