Health Care

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

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

Researchers in the U.S. monitored lead levels in more than 14,000 Americans over 20 years and found that even very low levels - between one to five micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood - increases the risk of premature death.

Contact with lead is linked to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and coronary heart disease, but low-level exposure was not previously thought to increase mortality.

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.

Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and a leading author of the study said that the connection between lead subjection and high blood pressure has been an age old entity, the immensity of the effect on cardiovascular temporality, specifically at lesser degree of lead exposure was substantial than expected.

"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.

Lanphear analyzed earlier USA government research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Of those, 1,801 died from cardiovascular disease and 988 passed away from heart disease.

Safety regulations have significantly reduced the risk of lead exposure in recent decades, especially in developed countries, but the heavy metal can persist in the body for many years. All were given a medical examination at the start of the study that included a blood test for lead, with readings ranging from less than 1mg per decilitre of blood to 56mg. About a fifth of Americans smoke, while 90 per cent of those who took part in the study were exposed to lead.

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.

"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".

"Currently, low levels of lead exposure are an important, but largely ignored risk factor for deaths from cardiovascular disease".

The researchers called for more aggressive measures to retire contaminated housing, phase out lead-laden jet fuels, replace lead pipes in plumbing, and reduce emissions from smelters and lead battery factories.

"Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults now aged 44 years old or over in the U.S., whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began", he explained.

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

Environmental exposure to low levels of lead hidden in paint, soil and plumbing systems could be responsible for hundreds of premature deaths every year, an global study suggests.

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