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New Study Finds Massive Benefit in Reducing Lead Exposure in the Adult Population

Rockville, Md.  –  An Abt Global-led study finds that reduction in lead exposure over the past 15 years has decreased the number of cardiovascular-related deaths in adults by tens of thousands of cases.  The study was published in the National Institutes of Health’s Environmental Health Perspectives.

Lead is a highly toxic pollutant that can damage neurological, cardiovascular, immunological, developmental, and other major organ systems. While lead exposure is most often identified as a threat to child IQ and has been quantified as such, Abt scientists Meghan Lynch, Lauren Brown, Ryan Klein and their colleagues developed an approach to  quantify the effect changes in lead exposure has on the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in adults.

Using their method along with data from four previously published epidemiological studies, the Abt researchers determined that the decreases in blood lead levels that occurred between 1999 and 2014 resulted in 34,000 to 99,000 deaths having been avoided.  This means that 16 percent to 46 percent of the decrease in the CVD-related mortality rate from 1999 to 2014 can be attributed to decreased lead exposure. Based on these findings, reductions in blood lead levels, even from the current low level exposures in the general population, can result in substantial public health gains. Such exposure can be via tap water, dust in homes with older paint, food, or even particles in the air.

The authors used their study to design a health impact model (HIM), which is a scalable, quantitative representation of the relationship between exposure to a chemical and the resulting human health response. A HIM is a crucial tool for evaluating the public health benefits for rulemakings, assessing the effectiveness of interventions, and developing burden-of-disease estimates. The HIM could be used by others to understand the impact lead exposure may have on public health, and to understand the impact future efforts to reduce lead exposures can have on reducing mortality.

“The good news is our results demonstrate that decreases in lead exposure have resulted in large benefits for the adult population,” said Lynch. But, as she and Brown write, “Preventing additional exposure at all ages is essential for protecting public health, as it will reduce not only current risk but also risk later in life. This is because reductions in young adulthood will reduce both current blood [lead] levels and the amount of [lead] stored in bone, which can be mobilized later in life and therefore present a future risk of CVD mortality in addition to the current risk.”

Learn more about the study.

About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. From combatting infectious disease and conducting rigorous program evaluations, to ensuring safe drinking water and promoting access to affordable housing - and more - we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.

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