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Human biomonitoring of arsenic and antimony in case of an elevated geogenic exposure.

By T W Gebel, R H Suchenwirth, C Bolten and H H Dunkelberg


Part of the northern Palatinate region in Germany is characterized by elevated levels of arsenic and antimony in the soil due to the presence of ore sources and former mining activities. In a biomonitoring study, 218 residents were investigated for a putative increased intake of these elements. Seventy-six nonexposed subjects in a rural region in south lower Saxony were chosen as the reference group. Urine and scalp hair samples were obtained as surrogates to determine the internal exposures to arsenic and antimony. The analyses were performed using graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry except for arsenic in urine, which was determined by the hydride technique. This method does not detect organoarsenicals from seafood, which are not toxicologically relevant. In the northern Palatinate subjects, slightly elevated arsenic contents in urine and scalp hair (presumably not hazardous) could be correlated with an increased arsenic content in the soil. On the other hand, the results did not show a correlation between the antimony contents in the soil of the housing area and those in urine and hair. Except for antimony in scalp hair, age tended to be associated with internal exposures to arsenic and antimony in both study groups. Consumption of seafood had a slight impact on the level of urinary arsenic, which is indicative of the presence of low quantities of inorganic arsenicals and dimethylarsinic acid in seafood. The arsenic and antimony contents in scalp hair were positively correlated with the 24-hr arsenic excretion in urine. However, antimony in scalp hair was not correlated with seafood consumption as was arsenic in scalp hair and in urine. This indicated the existence of unidentified common pathways of exposure contributing to the alimentary body burden. Short time peaks in the 24-hr excretion of arsenic in urine, which could not be assigned to a high consumption of seafood, were detected for six study participants. This suggests that additional factors relevant in the exposure to arsenic are still unidentified

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