Published: Thu, March 15, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Researchers attribute 250K annual CVD deaths in United States to lead exposure

Researchers attribute 250K annual CVD deaths in United States to lead exposure

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. "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. 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.

Up to 412,000 deaths a year in the USA can be attributed to lead exposure, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Pubilc Health. People who had 6.7 microgram per deciliter (µg/dL) of lead in their blood at the start of the study had a 37% higher chance of dying prematurely from any cause, and a 70% higher chance of dying from heart disease, over the course of the study, compared to people who had 1 µg/dL of lead in their blood. Further, an estimated 28.7 percent of premature cardiovascular disease deaths (256,000 out of 892000) could be attributable to lead exposure.

The study, which was published in The Lancet Public Health journal this week, tracked more than 14,000 adults over a period of about 20 years.

The figures quoted apply to the United States, and it is unclear how levels of lead exposure in Britain compare, but "if results were similar in this country it would mean 100,000 deaths a year could be linked to past lead pollution", says The Times. But only 20% of Americans now smoke, while lead exposure is more common, affecting 90% of people in the study. "The time has come to end inattention to the contribution of pollution to mortality from non-communicable diseases and to thoroughly re-examine lead's role in changing global patterns of cardiovascular disease".

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"In other words, they aren't saying that current exposure to lead in the environment is the main thing here, as much of the exposure would have been in the past when regulation was much less strict than it is now". And adult exposure to lead even at levels so low that they've been considered relatively benign is actually deadly enough to be considered a leading cause of death in the US.

One in five of the subjects (around 3630 people) had levels of 5 μg/dL or more.

The largest lead concentrations found in the study were 10 times higher. This is given by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annually. 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.

Tim Chico from the University of Sheffield said: "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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