Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Lead Exposure Linked to 412000 Premature Deaths in US Each Year

Lead Exposure Linked to 412000 Premature Deaths in US Each Year

The study monitored over 14,000 adults over a period of around 20 years, and found that individuals with an initial blood lead concentration at the 90 percentile saw a 37% increase in deaths and a 70% jump in cardiovascular disease mortality, compared to people with a blood lead concentration at the 10 percentile.

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to study the blood-lead levels of 14,289 people who were 20 or older between 1988 and 2011.

Tim Chico from the University of Sheffield said: "This study suggests that lead, or factors that increase people's exposure to lead, causes thousands more deaths every year than we previously recognised".

"There's no safe threshold", Lanphear said.

Up to 412,000 deaths a year in the US can be attributed to lead exposure, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Pubilc Health.

"Today, lead exposure is much lower because of regulations banning the use of lead in petrol, paints and other consumer products so the number of deaths from lead exposure will be lower in younger generations", Lanphear said.

"Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults now aged 44 years old or over in the US, whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began", he explained.

"Despite the striking reductions in concentrations of lead in blood over the past 50 years, amounts found nowadays in adults are still ten times to 100 times higher than people living in the pre-industrial era".

Over an average 19.3 years of follow-up, a total of 4,422 deaths occurred.

Researchers followed almost 14,300 participants for two decades and discovered that despite previous studies suggesting that low-level lead exposure did not increase the risk of premature death, this might not be the case. Of these, 1,801 were from CVD and 988 were from heart disease. Lead exposure has been associated with hardened arteries, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease, according to the researchers.

One in five of the subjects (around 3630 people) had levels of 5 μg/dL or more.

Still, these results indicate that lead exposure could have a larger impact on our health than we thought. Lanphear and his team sought to determine how exposure to lead contributes to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality in the U.S.

The study found that lead is common in a variety of common items including fuel, paint and plumbing and can even be found in certain foods, emissions from industrial sources, and contamination from lead smelting sites and lead batteries.

Of that figure, exposure to the toxic metal may be an "important, but largely overlooked" risk factor behind the 256,000 annual cardiovascular disease deaths in the country, the authors found.

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