Individual blood concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and chemical elements, and COVID-19: A prospective cohort study in Barcelona


Background: There is wide, largely unexplained heterogeneity in immunological and clinical responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Numerous environmental chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and chemical elements (including some metals, essential trace elements, rare earth elements, and minority elements), are immunomodulatory and cause a range of adverse clinical events. There are no prospective studies on the effects of such substances on the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19.

Objective: To investigate the influence of blood concentrations of POPs and elements measured several years before the pandemic on the development of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 in individuals from the general population.

Methods: We conducted a prospective cohort study in 154 individuals from the general population of Barcelona. POPs and elements were measured in blood samples collected in 2016-2017. SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected by rRT-PCR in nasopharyngeal swabs and/or by antibody serology using eighteen isotype-antigen combinations measured in blood samples collected in 2020-2021. We analyzed the associations between concentrations of the contaminants and SARS-CoV-2 infection and development of COVID-19, taking into account personal habits and living conditions during the pandemic.

Results: Several historically prevalent POPs, as well as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and zinc, were not associated with COVID-19, nor with SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, DDE (adjusted OR = 5.0 [95% CI: 1.2-21]), lead (3.9 [1.0-15]), thallium (3.4 [1.0-11]), and ruthenium (5.0 [1.8-14]) were associated with COVID-19, as were tantalum, benzo(b)fluoranthene, DDD, and manganese. Thallium (3.8 [1.6-8.9]), and ruthenium (2.9 [1.3-6.7]) were associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, and so were lead, gold, and (protectively) iron and selenium. We identified mixtures of up to five substances from several chemical groups, with all substances independently associated to the outcomes.

Conclusions: Our results provide the first prospective and population-based evidence of an association between individual concentrations of some contaminants and COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection. POPs and elements may contribute to explain the heterogeneity in the development of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 in the general population. If the associations are confirmed as causal, means are available to mitigate the corresponding risks.

Authors: Miquel Porta, José Pumarega, Magda Gasull, Ruth Aguilar, Luis A Henríquez-Hernández, Xavier Basagaña, Manuel Zumbado, Judith Villar, Cristina Rius, Sneha Mehta, Marta Vidal, Alfons Jimenez, Laura Campi, Joan Lop, Octavio L Pérez Luzardo, Carlota Dobaño, Gemma Moncunill
; Full Source: Environmental research 2023 Feb 3;115419. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.115419.