Study shows lead poisoning may hasten death for millions in US

Study shows lead poisoning may hasten death for millions in US

Lead author Professor Bruce Lanphear said that many people in the study were actually exposed to lead before they were being analysed.

"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".

Historical exposure occurs from lead present in the environment because of past use in fuel, paint and plumbing.

"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 this, there are measures that can be taken to reduce lead exposure, such as checking for lead paint and being wary of lead water pipes in your home, having your children tested for the toxin and being aware of recalls and news about lead, Consumer Reports reported.

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".

Lead has always been marked out as a toxic substance and has been phased out since the 1990s to reduce its environmental impact.

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. The average blood lead level was 2.7 μg/dL, and a total of 3,632 study participants had a level of 5 μg/dL or higher.

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Lanphear and colleagues found that after a median of 19.3 years, 4,422 people died, with 988 deaths due to ischemic heart disease and 1,801 of the deaths due to CVD.

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

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

The study revealed that adults who had high lead levels in their blood were 37 percent more likely to die from all causes during the follow-up period, compared with those who had a lower level of 1 μg/dL.

"A recurrent theme in lead poisoning research has been the realization that lead has toxic effects on multiple organ systems at relatively low levels of exposure previously thought to be safe", Landrigan wrote. The risk factor is even higher for people with cardiovascular disease, given that lead exposure is linked to high blood pressure, the hardening of the arteries and ischemic (coronary) heart disease.

The new Lancet study estimates that deaths from lead exposure approach the levels attributable to smoking, which kills 483,000 Americans each year. "A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater impact on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognized".

In particular, they warned they were unable to adjust their findings to account for exposure to air pollutants or arsenic, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease mortality.

"Estimating the contribution of low-level lead exposure is essential to understanding trends in cardiovascular disease mortality and developing comprehensive strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease".

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