June 14, 2024

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Lead Poisoning’s More Serious Impacts on Health and IQ

Lead Poisoning’s More Serious Impacts on Health and IQ

Lead Poisoning Found to Have Far More Serious Impact on Mortality and IQ Decline Than Previously Imagined

Model-based research suggests that the impact of lead poisoning on global health is far more significant than previously thought, potentially causing over 5 million deaths annually, with a threat level akin to air pollution.

This “alarm bell” study also estimates that exposure to this toxic metal results in an average loss of nearly six IQ points per child in developing countries. Lead contamination has been proven to contribute to a range of severe health issues, particularly related to heart disease and early childhood brain development, leading to the worldwide ban of leaded gasoline.


Lead Poisoning's More Serious Impacts on Health and IQ



Blood lead levels IQ loss function from Crump and colleagues. Blood lead levels represent the average blood lead level over a lifetime for children under 5 years old.

According to the research by Crump and colleagues, the solid line represents the central estimate, and the shaded area represents the 95% confidence interval (CI). IQ stands for intelligence quotient. Source: Lancet Planetary Health (2023). DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(23)00166-3

However, people can still be exposed to this potent neurotoxin through sources such as food, soil, cookware, fertilizers, cosmetics, lead-acid car batteries, and other means.

Published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, this study, authored by two World Bank economists, marks the first assessment of the impact of lead exposure on heart disease mortality and childhood IQ decline in both affluent and developing nations.

Lead author Bjorn Larsen told Agence France-Presse that he and his colleague were stunned when they first saw the numbers generated by their model because they were undeniably “enormous.”

Their model estimates that in 2019, 5.5 million adults died from heart disease due to lead exposure, with 90% of these deaths occurring in low- to middle-income countries. This is six times higher than previous estimates and accounts for approximately 30% of all cardiovascular disease deaths, a leading global cause of mortality.

Larsen stated that this implies that lead exposure is more likely to cause heart disease than smoking or cholesterol.

The research also estimated that in 2019, children under the age of five worldwide lost a cumulative total of 765 million IQ points due to lead poisoning, with 95% of these losses occurring in developing countries. This figure is nearly 80% higher than previous estimates.

World Bank researchers estimate that the economic cost of lead exposure in 2019 reached a staggering $6 trillion, equivalent to 7% of the global gross domestic product.

In their analysis, researchers used estimates of blood lead levels in 183 countries from the landmark 2019 Global Burden of Disease study.

Roy Harrison, an air pollution and health expert at the University of Birmingham in the UK who was not involved in the study, told Agence France-Presse that the study is “interesting but carries many uncertainties.” For instance, the relationship between blood lead levels and heart disease is based on a U.S.-based survey, while the model uses estimates of blood lead levels in many developing countries rather than actual measurements. But if these findings are confirmed, “they have significant public health implications, but for now, it’s an interesting hypothesis,” he added.

Richard Fuller, the chairman of the non-governmental organization Pure Earth, noted that surveys conducted in developing countries did indeed detect high levels of lead in blood, often exceeding the estimates in the new study. He told Agence France-Presse that this suggests “the impact of lead may be worse than described in the report,” calling it an “alarm bell.”

Larsen remarked that when it comes to understanding the extent of blood pollution from different sources of lead, “we are still in the dark.” A report released by Pure Earth this Tuesday revealed the “missing pieces of the puzzle,” analyzing 5,000 consumer goods and food samples from 25 developing countries. The report found high rates of lead contamination in metal cookware, ceramic cookware, paint, cosmetics, and toys.

This is why lead poisoning is so severe in impoverished nations. “It’s the things in their kitchens poisoning them.”



Lead Poisoning’s More Serious Impacts on Health and IQ

(source:internet, reference only)

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