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Measurement of lead, mercury, and cadmium in blood donors in Canada.

Transfusion 2024 May 17
BACKGROUND: Fetal and neonatal exposure to lead is associated with irreversible adverse effects on neural development. There is no reliable threshold for lead effect, so limiting exposure is recommended. A significant correlation has been reported between post-transfusion blood lead level (BLL) in infants and lead levels in transfused RBC units. We measured levels of lead, mercury, and cadmium, in Canadian donor blood to investigate if concerning levels for neonatal transfusion exist.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: Whole blood samples from blood donors (n = 2529) were shipped cold within 7 days of donation. All permanent blood donation clinics across Canada were sampled. Twelve of these permanent clinics and 8 mobile clinics with a greater potential for having higher lead or mercury levels were oversampled. Heavy metals were measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

RESULTS: Of all donations, 2.2% (lead) and 0.4% (mercury) had levels higher than the recommended thresholds for safe neonatal transfusion. BLLs were higher in males but there was no significant difference in the blood mercury levels of males versus females. Cadmium levels were higher in females. There was a positive correlation between donor age and levels of heavy metals, with lead having the strongest correlation (r = 0.47, p < .0001). Three clinics in close proximity to two lead-producing mines were among the clinics with the highest BLLs. Significantly higher blood mercury levels were observed in coastal clinics.

CONCLUSION: Our data on donor blood heavy metal levels supports considering blood transfusion as an exposure source to heavy metals and encourages informed selection of blood units for transfusion to vulnerable groups.

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