Prenatal lead, cadmium and mercury exposure and associations with motor skills at age 7 years in a UK observational birth cohort

Caroline M. Taylor*, Alan M. Emond, Raghu Lingam, Jean Golding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
354 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Lead and mercury are freely transferred across the placenta, while cadmium tends to accumulate in the placenta. Each contributes to adverse neurological outcomes for the child. Although prenatal heavy metal exposure has been linked with an array of neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood, its association with the development of motor skills in children has not been robustly studied. Aims/objective: The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between prenatal exposure to lead, cadmium and mercury, measured as maternal blood concentrations during pregnancy, and motor skills, measured as subtests of the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (Movement ABC) at age 7 years in a large sample of mother–child pairs enrolled in a UK observational birth cohort study (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, ALSPAC). Methods: Whole blood samples from pregnant women enrolled in ALSPAC were analysed for lead, cadmium and mercury. In a complete case analysis (n = 1558), associations between prenatal blood concentrations and child motor skills assessed by Movement ABC subtests of manual dexterity, ball skills and balance at 7 years were examined in adjusted regression models. Associations with probable developmental coordination disorder (DCD) were also investigated. Results: The mean prenatal blood levels were: lead 3.66 ± 1.55 μg/dl; cadmium 0.45 ± 0.54 μg/l; mercury 2.23 ± 1.14 μg/l. There was no evidence for any adverse associations of prenatal lead, cadmium or mercury exposure with motor skills measured at age 7 years with Movement ABC subtests in adjusted regression models. Further, there were no associations with probable DCD. Conclusions: There was no evidence to support a role of prenatal exposure to heavy metals at these levels on motor skills in the child at age 7 years measured using the Movement ABC. Early identification of symptoms of motor skills impairment is important, however, to enable investigation, assessment and treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date1 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Cadmium
  • Child
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Motor skills
  • Pregnancy


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