One in five deaths is linked to lead pollution, scientists reveal

Modesto Morganelli
Marzo 13, 2018

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. Of those, 1,801 died from cardiovascular disease and 988 passed away from heart disease.

People with high levels of at least 6.7mg were twice as likely to die from ischaemic heart disease compared with people having low levels of lead in their blood.

The study concluded that almost 30 percent of all deaths due to cardiovascular disease - basically, heart attacks and strokes - "could be attributable to lead exposure".

An worldwide study has found that low-level lead exposure could be responsible for 30 per cent of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States.

But lead pipes, once extensively used in plumbing, can still be found in older properties, while industrial emissions and contamination from smelting sites and batteries mean that some level of exposure to the metal continues.

Lead author Professor Bruce Lanphear said that many people in the study were actually exposed to lead before they were being analysed.

"This work has implications in Australia where we often see lead exposures in a number of inner city areas, for example in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in mining communities and also nationally through drinking water fixtures and fittings", said Dr Paul Harvey, a postdoctoral researcher from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University.

The scientists analysed data from the Third Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-III), a major study monitoring the health of United States citizens.

People with the highest lead levels had a 37% greater risk than normal of a premature death and a 70% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

This led researchers to conclude that 28.7 per cent of premature cardiovascular disease deaths were linked to lead exposure.

The participants all had blood tests at the outset to measure past and current exposure to lead, as well as a urine test for the metal cadmium.

A similar study would need to be conducted in Australia to confirm the extent of the association between lead exposure and heart disease, Dr Harvey noted.

"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.

"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", he explained.

The risk of succumbing to coronary heart disease doubled in such cases, the study found.

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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