Health problems associated with lead exposure have been known for decades, and now, new data suggests that this heavy metal is responsible for nearly 412,000 deaths each year in the United States – about 10 times more than previously thought.
Researchers followed more than 14,000 adults for a period of about 20 years, as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES-III). They found that people with initial blood concentrations of lead in the 90th percentile had a 37 percent higher risk of death from any cause and a 70 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, compared to those with lead blood levels in the 10th percentile.
Since the 1970s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other U.S. government agencies have taken steps to reduce lead contamination. Acceptable blood concentrations have been lowered from 40 micrograms (mcg) per deciliter to 5 mcg, but the CDC cautions that safe levels have not yet been identified. This study was led by researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada and published in The Lancet Public Health.