Lead Levels May Not Be Stringent Enough

Study finds even 'safe' exposures may mean 25% higher risk of death from all causes

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THURSDAY, Sept. 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Having blood lead levels that are generally considered "safe" may increase your risk of dying, according to a new report.

Since the mid-1970s, when lead was no longer used in gasoline, household paint, or food cans, the average blood lead levels in American adults have decreased from 13.1 micrograms per deciliter (g/dL) to 1.6 g/dL.

Currently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) defines high blood lead in adults as higher than 40 g/dL. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women of child-bearing age have blood levels below 10 g/dL.

But a new study published online Sept. 18 in the journal Circulation questions whether these guidelines are stringent enough.

Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans and colleagues collected blood lead levels in 13,946 adults between 1988 and 1994. Then, they followed the participants and tracked who had died by Dec. 31, 2000.

They found that, compared with participants whose blood lead levels were below 1.9 g/dL, those with levels between 3.6 g/dL and 10 g/dL were 25 percent more likely to die from any cause, 55 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 89 percent more likely to die from a heart attack, and 2.5 times more likely to die from a stroke.

"Although markedly reduced, the current blood lead levels may not be low enough, and we believe that practical and cost-effective methods for reducing lead exposure in the general U.S. population are needed," study author Paul Muntner, associate professor of epidemiology and medicine at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has more about lead.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Sept. 18, 2006

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