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Comparison of arsenic levels in fingernails with urinary As species as biomarkers of arsenic exposure in residents living close to a coal-burning power plant in Prievidza District, Slovakia


The associations between As levels in fingernails with both As concentrations in urine and environmental samples are reported. The participants (aged 20–80 years, mean 66 years) lived in the vicinity of a coal-burning power plant with high As emissions in the Prievidza District, Slovakia. Samples were taken in 1999 and 2000. The As levels in fingernails (n=524) were measured after washing and digestion with microwave heating by hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry. The spot urine samples (n=436) were speciated for inorganic As (Asinorg), monomethylarsonic (MMA) and dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) by hydride-cryogenic trap-atomic absorption spectrometry. The geometric mean As level in fingernails was 0.10 μg/g (range, <0.01–2.94 μg/g). There was a clear association between As in fingernails and the distance of the home to the power plant (P<0.001). Geometric mean As levels were: 0.17 μg/g distance ≤5 km, 0.10 μg/g 6–10 km and 0.08 μg/g > 10 km. The association between the distance to the power plant and total urinary As (Assum) (n=436, no fish consumption during the last 3 days before sample collection) was less pronounced (P=0.018). The As levels in fingernails were positively correlated to As in soil (n=207, r=0.23, P<0.001) and to As in house dust (n=209, r=0.30, P<0.001). The associations between urinary Assum and As concentrations in soil (n=159, r=0.13, P<0.105) and in house dust (n=162, r=0.14, P<0.081) were quite similar. As levels in fingernails were associated with urinary Assum and with the different As species in urine. It is concluded that As levels in fingernails are a reliable marker of environmental As exposure, and that As concentrations in fingernails reflect the As exposure in a similar manner compared with urinary Assum and As species.

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Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3



inorganic arsenic (AsIII+AsV)


sum of speciated arsenic compounds (Asinorg+MMA+DMA)


dimethylarsinic acid


limit of detection


monomethylarsonic acid


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Funding for this study was provided by the European Commission under Contract Number IC15 CT98 0525. We thank Rena Carolus-Heise for her skilful technical assistance in the analysis of arsenic concentrations in fingernails.

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Correspondence to Michael Wilhelm.

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Wilhelm, M., Pesch, B., Wittsiepe, J. et al. Comparison of arsenic levels in fingernails with urinary As species as biomarkers of arsenic exposure in residents living close to a coal-burning power plant in Prievidza District, Slovakia. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 15, 89–98 (2005).

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  • arsenic
  • exposure assessment
  • biomarker
  • fingernails
  • urine
  • arsenic species

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