US Deaths Tied to 'Ubiquitous but Insidious' Lead: 410K a Year

About 10 times higher than what researchers previously thought
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2018 8:07 AM CDT
Deaths Tied to Lead 10 Times Higher Than We Thought
In this Jan. 26, 2016, file photo, a registered nurse draws a blood sample from a student at an elementary school in Flint, Mich., to check for lead.   (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

A study on "ubiquitous but insidious" lead exposure is being deemed a "big deal" after researchers found a link between lead exposure and the deaths of around a quarter-million Americans annually from heart disease. In what USA Today says is the first study using a nationally representative sample to look at how low-level lead exposure is tied to deaths in the US, scientists kept tabs on more than 14,000 adults who took a national health survey between 1988 and 1994, then again in 2011. After looking at how many people died during this period—about 4,400 in total, 1,800 of those from cardiovascular disease—the study in the Lancet Public Health journal found about 256,000 deaths each year could be tied to lead exposure. The effects of lead on heart health had previously been thought to be much lower, especially at low levels of lead exposure, study lead author Bruce Lanphear tells CNN.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a Mount Sinai epidemiologist not involved with the study, explains that lead—which can show up in old water pipes, paint in older homes, industrial sites, plane fuel, and even certain foods—damages blood vessels' epithelial cells, which then ups the risk of plaque building up, possibly leading to a heart attack. The scientists also looked at all kinds of deaths, not just ones caused by heart disease, and found lead was tied to more than 410,000 US deaths annually—about 10 times more than what was previously believed to be the case, and not far off from the 480,000 smokers who die each year. The good news: Today's lead-exposure levels are much lower, meaning the next generation should hopefully see a lower death rate linked to lead. Consumer Reports offers some tips to keep you and your family safe. (There may be lead floating around your local gun range.)

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