Biomonitoring of Lead Exposure in Children from Two Fishing Communities at Northern Colombia


Lead (Pb) exposure is a growing concern in developing countries, especially in vulnerable children. The objective of this study was to evaluate blood lead levels (BLL) in children from two fishing populations at Northern Colombia, Loma de Arena and Tierrabomba, as well as their association with morphometric parameters, markers of hematological status, liver function, and mRNA expression of genes related to Pb toxicity. A total of 198 blood samples were collected from participants aged 5–16 years old. The mean (± standard error) BLL for the studied sample was 3.6 ± 0.3 μg/dL, and the 97.5th percentile was 21.0 μg/dL. The participants of Loma de Arena and Tierrabomba presented BLL of 3.9 ± 0.5 and 2.9 ± 0.3 μg/dL, respectively. Children born preterm had greater BLL than those born at full term. Boys had greater BLL than girls, which also occurred for participants between 12 and 16 years old, compared with those aged 5–11 years old. The BLL were negatively correlated with body mass index in children from Loma de Arena, but an opposite behavior was observed for Tierrabomba. In Loma de Arena, the mRNA expression of interferon gamma, a pro-inflammatory cytokine, increased with the BLL, but that of δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydrogenase, a sensor for Pb poisoning, decreased. In Tierrabomba, gene expression did not change with BLL. These results show that in fishing communities, lead exposure promotes different health impacts depending on age, sex, and other site-specific factors. In any case, appropriate educational and intervention programs should be carried out to minimize Pb exposure in children.

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The authors would like to thank all participants of the study, their parents, and community leaders, for their valuable help during sampling collection.


This work was supported by grants from Colciencias-University of Cartagena (1107-545-31,458. 323/12), the Program for Doctoral Studies in Colombia (Colciencias 567-2012 and 727-2015), and the Program to Support Research Groups (2016–2020), sponsored by the Vice-Rectory of Research, University of Cartagena.

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Correspondence to Jesus Olivero-Verbel.

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The protocols for this study were approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Cartagena (Acta No. 36-2011) and conducted in accordance with the Helsinki declaration for studies involving human participants.

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Carranza-Lopez, L., Alvarez-Ortega, N., Caballero-Gallardo, K. et al. Biomonitoring of Lead Exposure in Children from Two Fishing Communities at Northern Colombia. Biol Trace Elem Res 199, 850–860 (2021).

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  • Blood lead levels
  • Gene expression
  • Hematology
  • Weight
  • Height
  • BMI