Lead poisoning may hasten death for millions in US: study

March 12, 2018 by Marlowe Hood
A new study concludes that nearly 30 percent of all US deaths due to cardiovascular disease "could be attributable to lead exposure"

Persistent, low-level exposure to lead over decades is statistically linked to some 400,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, far more than previously thought, researchers said Monday.

Compared to people with little or no lead in their blood, those with high levels—at least 6.7 milligrammes per decilitre (mg/dl)—were 37 percent more likely to die early, according to a new study in The Lancet Public Health, a leading medical journal.

The risk of succumbing to doubled in such cases, the study found.

"Low levels of are an important, but largely ignored, risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease," mainly heart attacks and strokes, said lead author Bruce Lanphear, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The new research challenges "the assumption that specific toxicants—like lead—have 'safe levels'," he said in a statement.

Lanphear and his team reviewed two decades of health data for more than 14,000 adults in the US, covering the period 1990-2011.

The participants all had blood tests at the outset to measure past and current exposure to lead, as well as a urine test for the metal cadmium.

People can be exposed to lead via fuel, paint and plumbing, as well as around smelting sites or by handling lead batteries. Lead contamination can also occur in drinking water, as well as foods stored in lead-tainted containers.

Safety regulations have significantly reduced the risk of lead exposure in recent decades, especially in developed countries, but the heavy metal can persist in the body for many years.

Lead was undetectable in the blood of nearly one in 10 of the volunteers tested. At the other extreme, a fifth were found to have at least five mg/dl of lead flowing through their veins.

The largest lead concentrations found in the study were 10 times higher.

Lead-laden jet fuels

Overall, 18 percent of US participants who died from all causes during the period reviewed were found to have more than one mg/dl of lead in their blood.

The study concluded that nearly 30 percent of all deaths due to cardiovascular disease—basically, heart attacks and strokes—"could be attributable to lead exposure".

"Lead represents a leading cause of disease and death, and it is important to continue our efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure," Lanphear said.

The researchers called for more aggressive measures to retire contaminated housing, phase out lead-laden jet fuels, replace lead pipes in plumbing, and reduce emissions from smelters and lead battery factories.

"Lead has toxic effects on multiple organ systems and relatively low levels of exposure previously thought to be safe," Philip Landrigan, a professor at New York's Icahn School of Medicine, said in a comment, also in The Lancet Public Health.

"A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater impact on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognised."

The authors controlled for other factors that might contribute to , such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of exercise.

They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of to arsenic or air pollution.

Explore further: Researcher studying air pollution and risk for heart attack and stroke

Related Stories

Researcher studying air pollution and risk for heart attack and stroke

April 14, 2017
In a report released in 2016, the World Health Organization revealed that more than 90 percent of the world's population live in areas with high levels of air pollution, and that every year, close to three million deaths ...

No link between childhood lead levels, later criminality

December 27, 2017
(HealthDay)— Exposure to higher levels of lead during early childhood can affect neurological development—but does that mean affected kids are doomed to delinquency?

3 million deaths linked to outdoor air pollution annually

January 13, 2017
In a report released in 2016, the World Health Organization revealed that more than 90 percent of the world's population lives in areas with high levels of air pollution, and that every year, close to three million deaths ...

Household air pollution linked to higher risk of heart attacks, death

June 13, 2016
Long-term exposure to household air pollution from lighting, cooking or heating with fuels, such as kerosene or diesel, may increase the risk of heart attacks and death, according to new research in the American Heart Association's ...

Heart attacks more likely in those with low blood phosphate levels

November 8, 2017
Low phosphate in the blood is linked to the risk of heart attack and coronary artery disease, a new study in the journal PLOS One reports.

Recommended for you

Father's nicotine use can cause cognitive problems in children and grandchildren

October 16, 2018
A father's exposure to nicotine may cause cognitive deficits in his children and even grandchildren, according to a study in mice publishing on October 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Pradeep Bhide of Florida ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

Age at which women experience their first period is linked to their sons' age at puberty

October 12, 2018
The age at which young women experience their first menstrual bleeding is linked to the age at which their sons start puberty, according to the largest study to investigate this association in both sons and daughters.

First ever meta-analysis on Indian lead exposure reveals link to devastating intellectual disability in children

October 12, 2018
New Macquarie University research has revealed the devastating disease burden associated with elevated blood lead levels in India. The results of the first ever meta-analysis of Indian blood lead levels found the burden of ...

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

Sit-stand office desks cut daily sitting time and appear to boost job performance

October 11, 2018
Sit-stand workstations that allow employees to stand, as well as sit, while working on a computer reduce daily sitting time and appear to have a positive impact on job performance and psychological health, finds a trial published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.