Toxic elements are present at low concentrations in the environment. This work was undertaken to investigate the age dependence of the liver content of selected elements in paediatric populations, as an index of internal exposure. Liver samples were collected at autopsy from 157 subjects, aged <1 day to 6 years, as part of investigations on a possible role of Sb compounds in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition to Sb, the concentrations of Ag, Cd and Pb were also determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry on the remaining digest. Comparison of 95% confidence intervals of the median concentrations of the four elements suggested that there were no differences between the two categories of cause of death, SIDS or those who had died of an identified disease. Cadmium, lead and antimony median concentrations were lower than corresponding values observed in adult populations. Silver concentrations were significantly higher at birth and decreased with age. Cadmium levels were almost negligible in neonates and infants, but increased in older children. The finding of non-negligible concentrations of both Ag and Pb in neonatal liver provides further direct evidence that these elements cross the human placental barrier. The reported data, by far the largest collection observed in subjects less than 1 year old, are the result of exposure, during pregnancy and in early childhood, to present levels of these elements in the environment. They can serve as a reference to compare post-mortem values from individuals or groups of subjects in this age range when an exposure risk is suspected and to highlight trends in human exposure.
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