Lead's Heart Disease Death Toll 10 Times Higher Than Thought, Study Suggests
Lead's Heart Disease Death Toll 10 Times Higher Than Thought, Study Suggests
Low levels of environmental lead may be linked to many more deaths than previously thought research suggests
14 March, 2018, 00:28
But in a huge proportion of cases, the underlying cause is lead, according to the study: As many as 256,000 adult deaths from heart disease per year in the United States can be blamed on low-level lead exposure. In what USA Today says is the first study using a nationally representative sample to look at how low-level lead exposure is tied to deaths in the U.S., scientists kept tabs on more than 14,000 adults who took a national health survey between 1988 and 1994, then again in 2011.
Lead was added to petrol until the 1990s to boost engine compression, and was also widely used to improve the performance of household paint before being banned in the U.S. in 1978 and the European Union in 1992 "after concerns over the effects it was having on the environment and children's brains", adds the paper.
"What this study suggests is there's no apparent safe level" for adults, said the principal author of the study, Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University, in Canada. All participants had a medical examination, including a blood test for lead - a measure of past and ongoing exposures to lead - and a urine test for cadmium at the start of the study.
In children, lead exposure may cause developmental, behavioral, and learning problems, as well as anemia and problems with hearing.
There are regulations in place to safeguard people against lead exposure but about 90 percent of US are still exposed to the contaminant, CNN noted. That estimate of premature deaths is 10 times larger than in previous studies, and could put deaths from exposure to the heavy metal on a par with smoking. Of these, 1,801 were from CVD and 988 were from heart disease.
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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).
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.
The study found that lead is common in a variety of common items including fuel, paint and plumbing and can even be found in certain foods, emissions from industrial sources, and contamination from lead smelting sites and lead batteries.
"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 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.
"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 US, particularly from cardiovascular disease", says Lanphear. "A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater impact on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognized".
"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". 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.
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