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 U.S. study suggested. "And instead of it being 40,000 deaths, which is what had previously been estimated, we found that it was about 10 times that".
People with high blood levels had a 70 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those with lower levels.
For example, people with the highest lead levels were more likely to be men, smokers, and less educated, with poorer diets, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Bruce Lanphear, from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, published the findings in The Lancet Public Health. "Once we found that there was a risk across the entire range of exposures, we could estimate the number of attributable deaths".
People are more likely to suffer health complications from smoking, but lead exposure is far more common.
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According to findings of the new study, nearly 412,000 people in the United States die every year due to lead contamination.
In a press release, the authors noted some limitations to their research, "including that their results rely on one blood lead test taken at the start of the study and therefore can not determine any effect of further lead exposure after the study outset".
"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".
The scientists concluded that lead exposure is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and many more disorders, including some of a neurological nature.
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.
The researchers got to those numbers by extrapolating from a nationally representative study of 14,000 adults.
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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".
The link held even at low-level exposure to lead.
One in five of the subjects (around 3630 people) had levels of 5 μg/dL or more.
After the median follow-up of 19.3 years, 4,422 people died-including 1,801 from CVD and 988 from heart disease.
Exposure to lead could contribute to as many as 412,000 premature deaths each year in the United States, a new study in the medical journal the Lancet has found.
In particular, they warned they were unable to adjust their findings to account for exposure to air pollutants or arsenic, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease mortality.
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The average level of lead found in the participants' blood was 2.7 μg/dL.