Postnatal arsenic exposure and attention impairment in school children

Miguel Rodríguez-Barranco, Fernando Gil, Antonio F. Hernández, Juan Alguacil, Andres Lorca, Ramón Mendoza, Inmaculada Gómez, Isabel Molina-Villalba, Beatriz González-Alzaga, Clemente Aguilar-Garduño, Diane S. Rohlman, Marina Lacasaña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Over the last few decades there has been an increased concern about the health risks from exposure to metallic trace elements, including arsenic, because of their potential neurotoxic effects on the developing brain. This study assessed whether urinary arsenic (UA) levels are associated with attention performance and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children living in an area with high industrial and mining activities in Southwestern Spain. A cross-sectional study was conducted on 261 children aged 6-9 years. Arsenic levels were determined in urine samples. Attention was measured by using 4 independent tools: a) tests from the Behavioral Assessment and Research System (BARS) designed to measure attention function: Simple Reaction Time Test (RTT), Continuous Performance Test (CPT) and Selective Attention Test (SAT); b) AULA Test, a virtual reality (VR)-based test that evaluates children's response to several stimuli in an environment simulating a classroom; c) Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), administered to parents; and d) Teacher's Report Form (TRF), administered to teachers. Multivariate linear and logistic regression models, adjusted for potential confounders, were used to estimate the magnitude of the association between UA levels and attention performance scores. Higher UA levels were associated with an increased latency of response in RTT (β = 12.3; 95% confidence interval (CI): 3.5-21.1) and SAT (β = 3.6; 95% CI: .4-6.8) as well as with worse performance on selective and focalized attention in the AULA test (β for impulsivity = .6; 95% CI: .1-1.1; β for inattention = .5; 95% CI: .03-1.0). A dose-response relationship was observed between UA levels and inattention and impulsivity scores. In contrast, results from the CBCL and TRF tests failed to show a significant association with UA levels. In conclusion, UA levels were associated with impaired attention/cognitive function, even at levels considered safe. These results provide additional evidence that postnatal arsenic exposure impairs neurological function in children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-382
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • ADHD
  • Arsenic
  • Attention
  • Children
  • Neurobehavioral disorder
  • Neurotoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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