Neurocognitive impact of metal exposure and social stressors among schoolchildren in Taranto, Italy

Roberto G. Lucchini, Stefano Guazzetti, Stefano Renzetti, Michele Conversano, Giuseppa Cagna, Chiara Fedrighi, Augusto Giorgino, Marco Peli, Donatella Placidi, Silvia Zoni, Giovanni Forte, Costanza Majorani, Anna Pino, Oreste Senofonte, Francesco Petrucci, Alessandro Alimonti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Metal exposure is a public health hazard due to neurocognitive effects starting in early life. Poor socio-economic status, adverse home and family environment can enhance the neurodevelopmental toxicity due to chemical exposure. Disadvantaged socio-economic conditions are generally higher in environmentally impacted areas although the combined effect of these two factors has not been sufficiently studied. Methods: The effect of co-exposure to neurotoxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, manganese, mercury, lead, selenium, and to socio-economic stressors was assessed in a group of 299 children aged 6-12 years, residing at incremental distance from industrial emissions in Taranto, Italy. Exposure was assessed with biological monitoring and the distance between the home address and the exposure point source. Children's cognitive functions were examined using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB). Linear mixed models were chosen to assess the association between metal exposure, socio-economic status and neurocognitive outcomes. Results: Urinary arsenic, cadmium and hair manganese resulted inversely related to the distance from the industrial emission source (β - 0.04; 95% CI -0.06, - 0.01; β - 0.02; 95% CI -0.05, - 0.001; β - 0.02 95% CI -0.05, - 0.003) while the WISC intellectual quotient and its sub-scores (except processing speed index) showed a positive association with distance. Blood lead and urinary cadmium were negatively associated with the IQ total score and all sub-scores, although not reaching the significance level. Hair manganese and blood lead was positively associated with the CANTAB between errors of spatial working memory (β 2.2; 95% CI 0.3, 3.9) and the reaction time of stop signal task (β 0.05; 95% CI 0.02, 0.1) respectively. All the other CANTAB neurocognitive tests did not show to be significantly influenced by metal exposure. The highest socio-economic status showed about five points intellectual quotient more than the lowest level on average (β 4.8; 95% CI 0.3, 9.6); the interaction term between blood lead and the socio-economic status showed a significant negative impact of lead on working memory at the lowest socio-economic status level (β - 4.0; 95% CI -6.9, - 1.1). Conclusions: Metal exposure and the distance from industrial emission was associated with negative cognitive impacts in these children. Lead exposure had neurocognitive effect even at very low levels of blood lead concentration when socio-economic status is low, and this should further address the importance and prioritize preventive and regulatory interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number67
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 19 2019


  • Intellectual quotient
  • Metals
  • Neurocognitive functions
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Schoolchildren
  • Social stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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