US Deaths Tied to 'Ubiquitous but Insidious' Lead: 410K a Year

Leslie Hanson
March 13, 2018

If results were similar in Britain, that would mean 100,000 deaths per year could be linked to lead pollution.

A study on "ubiquitous but insidious" lead exposure is being deemed a "big deal" after researchers found a link between lead exposure and the deaths of around a quarter-million Americans annually from heart disease. But only 20% of Americans now smoke, while lead exposure is more common, affecting 90% of people in the study. 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.

Exposure occurs from lead that remains in the environment from historic use in fuel, paint and plumbing, as well as ongoing exposures from foods, emissions from industrial sources, and contamination from lead smelting sites and lead batteries.

Previous estimates, which assumed that low-level lead exposure did not increase the risk of premature death, produced substantially fewer deaths.

He said: "The estimated number of deaths from all causes and cardiovascular disease that were attributable to concentrations of lead in blood were surprisingly large; indeed, they were comparable with the number of deaths from current tobacco smoke exposure".

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.

Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, added: "This study adds to the substantial evidence that exposure to lead can have long-term consequences".

Tim Chico of the University of Sheffield told the paper: "This study suggests that lead, or factors that increase people's exposure to lead, causes thousands more deaths every year than we previously recognised".

"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".

"Lead has toxic effects on multiple organ systems and relatively low levels of exposure previously thought to be safe", Philip Landrigan, a professor at New York's Icahn School of Medicine, said in a comment, also in The Lancet Public Health.

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

"Household tap fittings, such as some water filters, can also contain lead-based components, which can leach lead into the water".

Researchers warned outside factors could lead to an "overestimation of the effect of concentrations of lead in blood, particularly from socioeconomic and occupational factors".

They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of exposure to arsenic or air pollution.

Between 1988 and 1994, United States experts gave blood-lead tests to 30,000 randomly selected Americans, from infants to the elderly, then followed up with people in 2011.

The research found that people with high lead levels were at 37 per cent greater risk of premature death from any cause, 70 per cent times greater risk of cardiovascular death, and double the risk of death from ischemic heart disease, compared to those with lower levels. After looking at how many people died during this period-about 4,400 in total, 1,800 of those from cardiovascular disease-the study in the Lancet Public Health journal found about 256,000 deaths each year could be tied to lead exposure.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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