Projects: Toxic exposures early in life and children’s health and development

Early-life is considered a highly susceptible period for toxic insults, but there is still limited knowledge of how early-life exposure to many environmental pollutants affects health, from fetal life to adulthood.

Our research focuses primarily on early-life exposure to metals and other trace elements, commonly occurring in food and/or drinking water such as arsenic, cadmium, fluoride, lead and mercury, and their potential impact on child health and development. We know there are large individual differences in susceptibility to metal toxicity, and therefore, we also elucidate the role of various sensitivity factors such as gender, nutritional status, metabolism and genetics. We use a global health approach and conduct our studies in several mother-child cohorts in Asia, South America, and Europe, including Sweden.

The majority of our studies are currently conducted in i) a mother-child cohort in Bangladesh (MINIMat; Maternal and Infant Nutrition Interventions in Matlab; n about 2500) with recruitment in early pregnancy (2001-2003) and with repeated follow-up of the children to 15 years of age (2019); ii) a mother-child cohort in the Andean part of northern Argentina (n=200) with follow-up of the children until six months of age; and iii) a mother-child cohort in northern Sweden (NICE; Nutritional impact on Immunological maturation during Childhood in relation to the Environment; n about 650) with recruitment in mid-pregnancy and repeated follow-up of the children until four years of age. For all cohorts, there exist extensive biological samples and health data, and we have measured multiple elements and biomarkers of different effects, including epigenetic markers, and markers for susceptibility. We also collaborate with researchers working with the Rhea study, a mother-child cohort on Crete, Greece, and with researchers studying children in Montevideo, Uruguay (PI Katarzyna Kordas).


  • Swedish Research Council
  • Swedish Research Council, Developmental Research
  • Swedish Research Council Formas
  • Karolinska Institutet

Selected publications

Low-level maternal exposure to cadmium, lead, and mercury and birth outcomes in a Swedish prospective birth-cohort. Gustin K, Barman M, Stråvik M, Levi M, Englund-Ögge L, Murray F, Jacobsson B, Sandberg AS, Sandin A, Wold AE, Vahter M, Kippler M. Environ Pollut. 2020; 265(Pt B):114986.

Prenatal and childhood arsenic exposure through drinking water and food and cognitive abilities at 10 years of age: A prospective cohort study.  Vahter M, Skröder H, Rahman SM, Levi M, Derakhshani Hamadani J, Kippler M.  Environ Int. 2020; 139:105723.

Executive functions in school children from Montevideo, Uruguay and their associations with concurrent low-level arsenic exposure. Desai G, Barg G, Vahter M, Queirolo EI, Peregalli F, Mañay N, Millen AE, Yu J, Kordas K. Environ Int. 2020; 142:105883.

Early-Life Cadmium Exposure and Bone-Related Biomarkers: A Longitudinal Study in Children.  Malin Igra A, Vahter M, Raqib R, Kippler M. Environ Health Perspect. 2019; 127(3):37003.

Exploring telomere length in mother-newborn pairs in relation to exposure to multiple toxic metals and potential modifying effects by nutritional factors.  Herlin M, Broberg K, Igra AM, Li H, Harari F, Vahter M. BMC Med. 2019;17(1):77.

Pre- and postnatal environmental boron exposure and infant growth: Results from a mother-child cohort in northern Argentina. Hjelm C, Harari F, Vahter M. Environ Res. 2019; 171:60-68.

A cross-sectional study of urinary cadmium concentrations in relation to dietary intakes in Uruguayan school children. Burganowski R, Vahter M, Queirolo EI, Peregalli F, Baccino V, Barcia E, Mangieri S, Ocampo V, Mañay N, Martínez G, Kordas K. Sci Total Environ. 2019; 658:1239-1248.

Associations of Prenatal Exposure to Cadmium With Child Growth, Obesity, and Cardiometabolic Traits. Chatzi L, Ierodiakonou D, Margetaki K, Vafeiadi M, Chalkiadaki G, Roumeliotaki T, Fthenou E, Pentheroudaki E, McConnell R, Kogevinas M, Kippler M. Am J Epidemiol. 2019; 188(1):141-150.

Nutritional impact on Immunological maturation during Childhood in relation to the Environment (NICE): a prospective birth cohort in northern Sweden.  Barman M, Murray F, Bernardi AI, Broberg K, Bölte S, Hesselmar B, Jacobsson B, Jonsson K, Kippler M, Rabe H, Ross AB, Sjöberg F, Strömberg N, Vahter M, Wold AE, Sandberg AS, Sandin A. BMJ Open. 2018; 8(10):e022013.

Impact of prenatal exposure to cadmium on cognitive development at preschool age and the importance of selenium and iodine.  Kippler M, Bottai M, Georgiou V, Koutra K, Chalkiadaki G, Kampouri M, Kyriklaki A, Vafeiadi M, Fthenou E, Vassilaki M, Kogevinas M, Vahter M, Chatzi L.  Eur J Epidemiol. 2016; 31(11):1123-1134. doi: 10.1007/s10654-016-0151-9.

Low-level arsenic exposure: Nutritional and dietary predictors in first-grade Uruguayan children. Kordas K, Queirolo EI, Mañay N, Peregalli F, Hsiao PY, Lu Y, Vahter M.

Environ Res. 2016; 147:16-23.

Contact person

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Maria Kippler

Senior Lecturer
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Marie Vahter

Content reviewer:
Anna Persson