Lead Exposure Linked to 412000 Premature Deaths in US Each Year


A study on "ubiquitous but insidious" lead exposure is being deemed a "big deal" after researchers found a link between lead exposure and the deaths of around a quarter-million Americans annually from heart disease.

"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.

A history of lead exposure may be linked to more than a quarter of a million deaths from heart disease each year. Blood samples were taken from each participant at study baseline, and these were measured for levels of lead.

From the 1990s until 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control considered anything less than 10 µg/dL to be a "low" level of exposure for adults, though the CDC does not consider any level of lead to be "safe".

But efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure is still vital, he said. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to remove workers from exposure when their blood lead levels rise to 50 µg/dL in the construction industry or 60 µg/dL in other industries, and they can return to work when their blood lead levels go down to 40 µg/dL.

Lead was undetectable in the blood of almost one in 10 of the volunteers tested.

"No studies have estimated the number of deaths in the United States of America attributable to lead exposure using a nationally representative cohort, and it is unclear whether concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL, which is the current action level for adults in the United States of America, are associated with cardiovascular mortality", the researchers explain.

Lead exposure may be linked to 412000 premature US deaths yearly, study says

After the median follow-up of 19.3 years, 4,422 people died-including 1,801 from CVD and 988 from heart disease.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children are most susceptible to the harms of lead exposure; their developing bodies absorb the chemical in higher amounts and their brains and nervous systems and more sensitive to it.

People with the highest lead levels had a 37% greater risk than normal of a premature death and a 70% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

He said: "The estimated number of deaths from all causes and cardiovascular disease that were attributable to concentrations of lead in blood were surprisingly large; indeed, they were comparable with the number of deaths from current tobacco smoke exposure".

"Our study findings suggest that low-level environmental lead exposure is an important risk factor for death in the U.S., particularly from cardiovascular disease", the paper states.

Professor Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University, said: "The researchers make a very important point in their report - that it is more accurate to view this study as estimating how many deaths might have been prevented if historical exposures to lead had not occurred". "A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater impact on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognized".

They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of exposure to arsenic or air pollution. However, because lead can contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure and hardening of arteries, it is also believed to contribute to cardiovascular and heart disease.

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