The objective of this study was to investigate the presence of cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb) in the hair and saliva of schoolchildren (n=265) in Ceres district, rural and agricultural Town. The role of other factors, such as the socio-economic status, and anthropometric data of the children were also investigated including levels of elements in water, common foods and cultivated vegetables.
The results showed high mean levels of Pb in both hair (1.17 ±0.99μg/kg) and saliva (1.07 ±1.31μg/L), when compared with the reference mean (<0.55 μg/kg and <1.0 μg/L) respectively. The mean level of Cd in hair (0.95 μg/kg±044) was also high but within the reference value (<1.55 μg/kg). Likewise, Cd in saliva with a mean concentration of 0.67 ±0.48μg/L was within the reference values (0.4–2.25 μg/L). Both proportions fall within the threshold of 0.3% lead in hair (Pb <0.55 μg/kg) and cadmium in hair (Cd <1.55 μg/kg).
The study also showed the presence of both elements in water, common food and cultivated vegetables. The socio-economic status and anthropometric data did not have a significant effect on both elements. Considering the environmental nature of Ceres as a rural agricultural town with such high levels of these elements in the learners and other elements and knowing that the half life of most heavy elements is between 20yrs and 40yrs, one cannot underestimate the potential health risk, resulting in the none absorption of other essential elements like iron and zinc, resulting in learning difficulties and nutritional deficiencies in later years.
These results support most findings that heavy metal elements can be found in hair and saliva. However, the source of these elements is unknown, but there are indications that environmental factors might be responsible. These findings need to be further investigated to ascertain the source, potential impact of these findings, and the possible role of food fortification in reducing negative effects.