Lead poisoning may hasten death for millions


Older Americans exposed to lead when they were younger, more likely to have heart disease.

TUESDAY, March 13, 2018 (HealthDay News) - Environmental lead exposure is a risk factor for all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and ischemic heart disease mortality, according to a study published online March 12 in The Lancet Public Health. All participants underwent a medical examination and a test on their lead level.

"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 U.S., particularly from cardiovascular disease", Lanphear said in a press release.

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.

Based on these risk levels, the authors estimated that up to 18 percent of all deaths every year in the United States of America (or 412,000 out of 2.3 million annual mortalities) would be among people who had levels of lead above 1 micrograms per deciliter.

Lead is most widely recognized as a hazard to children, who can suffer intellectual damage from even minimal exposure.

Mr Lanphear believes that 412,000 deaths per year in America are hastened by exposure to lead. The results from the study said that low-levels of lead exposure, between one and five micrograms per decilitre of blood, can increase the risk of premature death. "Public health measures, such as abating older housing, phasing out lead-containing jet fuels, replacing lead-plumbing lines, and reducing emissions from smelters and lead battery facilities, will be vital to prevent lead exposure".

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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.

Lead exposure is much lower today because of regulations banning the use of lead in petrol, paints and other products.

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

Researchers said that it was possible these risk factors could confound the research and that scientists were unable to adjust for some other critical factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, including air pollution.

"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".

The study, which tracked over 14,000 adults over a 20-year period, discovered that for people who initially had concentrations of lead in their blood at the 90th percentile, all-cause mortality increased by 37 percent and cardiovascular disease mortality increased by 70 percent compared to people with concentrations of lead in their blood at the 10th percentile. A total of 4,422 people died during a median follow-up of 19.3 years: 38 percent from cardiovascular disease and 22 percent from ischemic heart disease.