Inside a small stucco building behind Mexico City’s ABC Hospital, a team of public health scientists from Mexico and the U.S. are learning about the impact of lead and other toxicant exposures on human health through the life course. Their work, which has been going on for more than 20 years, may have implications for people worldwide—including residents of Flint, Michigan, who are now asking questions about lead exposure and its long-term impact on health.
A research collaboration of ABC Hospital, U-M SPH, the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, and Mexico’s National Institute of Perinatology, researchers with the ELEMENT study are examining the impact of exposures to toxicants from infancy on. Some study participants are now adolescents and have been a part of the study since before birth.
Lead exposure is a primary focus of the ELEMENT study. In Mexico, exposure to lead comes primarily from ceramics and paint, and—prior to 1997—from leaded gasoline.
Findings from the study suggest that lead is stored in the bones and affects health at key moments in the lifecourse, including pregnancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Karen Peterson of U-M SPH and Martha Tellez Rojo of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico say the study’s findings also indicate that lead exposure affects cognition and attention later in life. And exposure to lead during pregnancy affects birthweight, growth throughout life, cognition, and risk for metabolic syndrome.
Support for the ELEMENT study comes from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico, and ABC Hospital.