Metal mining and birth defects : a case-control study in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Background: Widespread environmental contamination caused by mining of copper and cobalt has led to concerns about the possible association between birth defects and exposure to several toxic metals in southern Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We therefore aimed to assess the possible contribution of parental and antenatal exposure to trace metals to the occurrence of visible birth defects among neonates. Methods: We did a case-control study between March 1, 2013, and Feb 28, 2015, in Lubumbashi, DRC. We included newborns with visible birth defects (cases) and healthy neonates born in the same maternity ward (controls). Mothers were interviewed about potentially relevant exposures, including their partners' jobs. Various trace metals were measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry in maternal urine, maternal blood, umbilical cord blood, placental tissue, and surface dust at home. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were done to calculate adjusted odds ratios and their 95% CIs (CI). Findings: Our study included 138 neonates with visible birth defects (about 0·1% of the 133 662 births in Lubumbashi during the study period) and 108 control neonates. Potential confounders were similarly distributed between cases and controls. Vitamin consumption during pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of birth defects (adjusted odds ratio 0·2, 95% CI 0·1-0·5). Mothers having paid jobs outside the home (2·8, 1·2-6·9) and fathers having mining-related jobs (5·5, 1·2-25·0) were associated with a higher risk of birth defects. We found no associations for trace metal concentrations in biological samples, except for a doubling of manganese (Mn; 1·7, 1·1-2·7) and zinc (Zn; 1·6, 0·9-2·8) in cord blood. In a separate model including placentas, a doubling of Mn at the fetal side of the placenta was associated with an increased risk of birth defects (3·3, 1·2-8·0), as was a doubling of cord blood Zn (5·3, 1·6-16·6). Interpretation: To our knowledge, this is the first study of the effects of mining-related pollution on newborns in sub-Saharan Africa. Paternal occupational mining exposure was the factor most strongly associated with birth defects. Because neither Mn nor Zn are mined in Lubumbashi, the mechanism of the association between their increased prenatal concentrations and birth defects is unclear.
Source (journal)
Lancet Planetary Health
Elsevier , 2020
4 :4 (2020) , p. e158-e167
Full text (Publisher's DOI)
Full text (open access)
Publication type
External links
Creation 28.03.2024
Last edited 28.03.2024
To cite this reference