OBJECTIVES - To estimate the umbilical cord blood lead levels (BLLs) of Pakistani neonates and to identify determinants for umbilical BLLs.
METHODS - We conducted a cross-sectional study of mothers and infants at one of the two obstetric units of two tertiary care hospitals in Karachi during January-August 2005. Information from 540 mothers selected randomly from those registered for delivery was obtained about their pregnancy, diet, and current and past lead exposures. We collected umbilical cord blood for lead levels analyzed using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry. We computed geometric and arithmetic means. We performed multiple linear regression analysis to identify factors associated with log-transformed umbilical cord BLLs. We also performed logistic regression analysis to identify determinants of high lead cord BLLs (10 microg/dl).
RESULTS - The geometric mean cord BLL of the neonates was 9.6 microg/dl; arithmetic mean (S.D.) was 10.8 microg/dl (5.7) with a median of 9.7 microg/dl and a range of 1.8-48.9 microg/dl. Women who reported intake of less than 58.5mg of elemental iron supplement per day during pregnancy had cord BLL of 10.0 microg/dl; in comparison those women who had higher iron intake had lower cord BLL (8.4 microg/dl). Those who used surma (an eye cosmetic) daily had higher cord BLL (11.5 microg/dl) as compared to those who used it less frequently (9.4 microg/dl). In multivariable linear regression model, higher iron intake, owning a car, and being in 2nd quartile of mid-arm circumference were associated with low lead levels while father's occupation in lead-based industry was associated with significantly higher umbilical cord BLLs. There was interaction of daily surma use and ethnicity. Geometric mean BLLs were varied among surma users by ethnicity.
CONCLUSIONS - Umbilical cord BLLs are high in Karachi, Pakistan, in comparison to those in developed countries such as United States. Measures are needed to reduce fetal lead exposure to prevent adverse affect on neurocognitive development. Association of low iron (below RDA of 60 mg per day) with high umbilical cord has implications for strengthening iron supplement intake during pregnancy. Umbilical cord BLLs differed among surma users by ethnicity.