US Deaths Tied to 'Ubiquitous but Insidious' Lead: 410K a Year
US Deaths Tied to 'Ubiquitous but Insidious' Lead: 410K a Year
13 March, 2018, 23:13
More than 400,000 deaths annually from ischemic heart disease and CVD may be attributable to low levels of lead exposure, according to findings recently published in Lancet Public Health. Lead was once widely used in petrol, plumbing, paint, and other consumer products, but as it emerged that high exposure to the chemical - defined as having a blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) or higher - can be toxic to humans and animals, efforts have been made to reduce its use.
"Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults now aged 44-years-old or over in the U.S., whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began", says lead author Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University, Canada.
"But if we're underestimating the impact of lead exposure on cardiovascular disease mortality and other important outcomes beyond IQ, then it might have a big impact on the way we make investments in preventing lead poisoning exposure".
Lanphear analyzed earlier USA government research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
"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.
Safety regulations have significantly reduced the risk of lead exposure in recent decades, but the heavy metal can persist in the body for many years.
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". All were given a medical examination at the start of the study that included a blood test for lead, with readings ranging from less than 1mg per decilitre of blood to 56mg.
At the outset, the average level of lead found in the participants' blood was 2.7 µg/dL, but ranged from less than 1 to 56 µg/dL.
For example, people with the highest lead levels were more likely to be men, smokers, and less educated, with poorer diets, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
After an average of 19.3 years, 4,422 people died including 1,801 from cardiovascular disease and 988 from heart disease.
The research found that people with high lead levels were at 37 per cent greater risk of premature death from any cause, 70 per cent times greater risk of cardiovascular death, and double the risk of death from ischemic heart disease, compared to those with lower levels.
Nearly one in 10 participants had lead levels that were undetectable to the blood test, so were given a reference level of 0.7 µg/dL (8%, 1,150/14,289 participants). Of these, around 256,000 are from CVD.
Are there any "safe levels" of toxicants?
Prof Lanphear said: "Our study calls into question the assumption that specific toxicants, like lead, have "safe levels", and suggests that low-level environmental lead exposure is a leading risk factor for premature death in the United States of America, particularly from cardiovascular disease".
"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".
They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of exposure to arsenic or air pollution.
The figures quoted apply to the USA, and it is unclear how levels of lead exposure in Britain compare, but "if results were similar in this country it would mean 100,000 deaths a year could be linked to past lead pollution", says The Times.
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