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Urinary and hair concentrations of trace metals in pregnant women from Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: a pilot study



Northeastern British Columbia (Canada) is an area of intense natural gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing can release contaminants, including trace metals, many of which are known developmental toxicants. To date, there is limited data on human exposure to contaminants in this region.


We aimed to examine trace metals in urine and hair samples from 29 Indigenous and non-Indigenous pregnant women from two communities (Chetwynd and Dawson Creek) in Northeastern British Columbia.


We recruited 29 pregnant women who provided spot urine samples over five consecutive days and one hair sample. We measured 19 trace metals in pooled urine samples from each participant and in the first 2 cm of hair closest to the scalp. We compared urinary and hair concentrations to those measured in women from the general population using data from the Canadian Health Measure Survey (CHMS), or reference values found in the literature for trace metals not measured in the CHMS.


Median urinary (0.49 μg/L) and hair (0.16 μg/g) concentrations of manganese were higher in our participants than in the CHMS (<0.05 µg/L in urine) or reference population (0.067 μg/g in hair). In hair, median values for barium (4.48 μg/g), aluminum (4.37 μg/g) and strontium (4.47 μg/g) were respectively 16, 3, and 6 times higher compared with median values in a reference population. Concentrations of barium and strontium in hair were higher in self-identified Indigenous participants (5.9 and 5.46 μg/g, respectively) compared to non-Indigenous participants (3.88 and 2.60 μg/g) (p-values = 0.02 and 0.03).


Our results suggest higher gestational exposure to certain trace metals in our study population compared to reference populations.

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This research project was funded through a new initiative grant program from the Université de Montréal Public Health Research Institute (IRSPUM) and the West Moberly First Nations. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin was supported through a postdoctoral fellow scholarship from the Fonds de Recherche Santé—Québec (FRQS), and is now supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research postdoctoral fellowship (FRN 159262). Marc-André Verner is the recipient of a Research Scholar J1 Award from the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Santé (FRQS). This research was conducted in Treaty 8, the traditional territory of the Cree, Saulteau and Dunne-Za people. We want to thank the participants, as well as the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the Saulteau First Nations and the West Moberly First Nations for their support and welcoming. The research team would also like to thank the participants and the staff from medical clinics for their assistance during the recruitment.

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Caron-Beaudoin, É., Bouchard, M., Wendling, G. et al. Urinary and hair concentrations of trace metals in pregnant women from Northeastern British Columbia, Canada: a pilot study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 29, 613–623 (2019).

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  • Trace metals
  • Biomonitoring
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Gestational exposure

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