A multi-environmental source approach to explore associations between metals exposure and olfactory identification among school-age children residing in northern Italy

Stefano Renzetti, Christoph van Thriel, Roberto G. Lucchini, Donald R. Smith, Marco Peli, Laura Borgese, Paola Cirelli, Fabjola Bilo, Alessandra Patrono, Giuseppa Cagna, Elza Rechtman, Stefania Idili, Elisa Ongaro, Stefano Calza, Matteo Rota, Robert O. Wright, Birgit Claus Henn, Megan K. Horton, Donatella Placidi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Metal exposures can adversely impact olfactory function. Few studies have examined this association in children. Further, metal exposure occurs as a mixture, yet previous studies of metal-associated olfactory dysfunction only examined individual metals. Preventing olfactory dysfunctions can improve quality of life and prevent neurodegenerative diseases with long-term health implications. Objective: We aimed to test the association between exposure to a mixture of 12 metals measured in environmental sources and olfactory function among children and adolescents residing in the industrialized province of Brescia, Italy. Methods: We enrolled 130 children between 6 and 13 years old (51.5% females) and used the “Sniffin’ Sticks” test to measure olfactory performance in identifying smells. We used a portable X-ray fluorescence instrument to determine concentrations of metals (arsenic (As), calcium, cadmium (Cd), chromium, copper, iron, manganese, lead (Pb), antimony, titanium, vanadium and zinc) in outdoor and indoor deposited dust and soil samples collected from participants’ households. We used an extension of weighted quantile sum (WQS) regression to test the association between exposure to metal mixtures in multiple environmental media and olfactory function adjusting for age, sex, socio-economic status, intelligence quotient and parents’ smoking status. Results: A higher multi-source mixture was significantly associated with a reduced Sniffin’ Sticks identification score (β = −0.228; 95% CI −0.433, −0.020). Indoor dust concentrations of Pb, Cd and As provided the strongest contributions to this association (13.8%, 13.3% and 10.1%, respectively). The metal mixture in indoor dust contributed more (for 8 metals out of 12) to the association between metals and olfactory function compared to soil or outdoor dust. Impact statement: Among a mixture of 12 metals measured in three different environmental sources (soil, outdoor and indoor dust), we identified Pb, Cd and As measured in indoor dust as the main contributors to reduced olfactory function in children and adolescents residing in an industrialized area. Exposure to indoor pollution can be effectively reduced through individual and public health interventions allowing to prevent the deterioration of olfactory functions. Moreover, the identification of the factors that can deteriorate olfactory functions can be a helpful instrument to improve quality of life and prevent neurodegenerative diseases as long-term health implications.

Keywords

  • Environmental multi source exposure
  • Metal mixture exposures
  • Olfactory identification
  • Weighted quantile sum regression

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