Lead exposure increases risk for premature deaths & cardiovascular diseases

Lead was used in petrol for decades despite its toxicity. Its use was phased out in the 1990s

Lead was used in petrol for decades despite its toxicity. Its use was phased out in the 1990sBEN GURR FOR THE TIMES

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.

Professor Bruce Lanphear, who led the study at Canada's Simon Fraser University, said: "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".

"Previous studies of cardiovascular disease mortality in lead-exposed populations have been criticized because they did not account for other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease mortality, such as cadmium", Bruce P. Lanphear, MD, of the department of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and colleagues wrote.

From an analysis of more than 14,000 people in the US, researchers found that exposure to low lead levels from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s was linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death over the next 20 years.

These figures are nearly 10 times higher than previously estimated in a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, CNN reported. A recent study tells about the health hazards of lead exposure for the people's health.

Compared to people with little or no lead in their blood, those with high levels - at least 6.7mg/dl - were 37% more likely to die early, according to a new study in The Lancet Public Health journal. 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. Blood samples were taken from each participant at study baseline, and these were measured for levels of lead.

The new Lancet study estimates that deaths from lead exposure approach the levels attributable to smoking, which kills 483,000 Americans each year.

Researchers followed almost 14,300 participants for two decades and discovered that despite previous studies suggesting that low-level lead exposure did not increase the risk of premature death, this might not be the case.

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The link held even at low-level exposure to lead.

There are regulations in place to safeguard people against lead exposure but about 90 percent of USA are still exposed to the contaminant, CNN noted.

"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 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 United States, scientists kept tabs on more than 14,000 adults who took a national health survey between 1988 and 1994, then again in 2011. Lead contamination can also occur in drinking water, as well as foods stored in lead-tainted containers.

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

Additionally, the study took only one reading of lead in participants' blood, when levels were likely to have changed over time.

He added: "This study suggests that lead, or factors that increase people's exposure to lead, causes thousands more deaths every year than we previously recognised".

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