March 18, 2018

Lead exposure causes one in three cardiovascular deaths

14 March 2018, 10:57 | Lena Norman

A new study concludes that nearly 30 percent of all US deaths due to cardiovascular disease “could be attributable to lead exposure”

A new study concludes that nearly 30 percent of all US deaths due to cardiovascular disease

As many as 412,000 Americans die prematurely every year - mostly from cardiovascular disease - due to past exposure to small amonts of the toxic metal, a new USA study suggested.

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 on Monday.

Stemming the risk requires a range of public health measures, Lanphear said in a journal news release, such as "abating older housing, phasing out lead-containing jet fuels, replacing lead-plumbing lines and reducing emissions from smelters and lead battery facilities".

Additionally, the NHANES study only took one reading of participants blood lead, which can change throughout people's lives as they are exposed. Over the last 10 years, research has found an array of health effects in adults at low levels; the US Department of Health and Human Services published a monograph in 2012 showing that even very low blood lead levels raised a person's risk for hypertension, heart disease, and reduced kidney function.

"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. "Still, lead represents a leading cause of disease and death, and it is important to continue our efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure", explained lead author professor Bruce Lanphear, from Simon Fraser University in Canada, in a statement.

Middle-aged people are especially vulnerable to past exposure, with lead in traffic fumes, paint and plumbing responsible.

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Mr Lanphear's team followed 14,300 people for 20 years, measuring how much lead was in their blood in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Overall, 18% of U.S. participants who died from all causes during the period reviewed were found to have more than 1mg/dl of lead in their blood.

"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".

"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", he explained.

More than 4,400 people died in the period - and the tenth with the highest level of lead in their blood were 37 per cent more likely to be among them than the tenth with the least. 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. In addition, they were unable to control for all potential confounders such as air pollution or arsenic exposure, both of which are established CVD risk factors. 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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