Environmental Science

Lead in the Blood

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Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 231
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6168.231-a
CREDIT: © JINNY GOODMAN/ALAMY

Exposure to lead can lead to numerous adverse health effects in humans, with particular concern over neurotoxic effects. Between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s, the use of lead compounds in gasoline was phased out in most industrialized countries, and since then, the lead content of ambient air has fallen markedly. In the United States, the national ambient air quality standard is set for the lead content of ambient air (PbA), but humans can be exposed to lead via sources other than air, leading to the total lead measured in blood (PbB). Using PbB data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey and PbA data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality System for 1999–2008, Meng et al. investigated the relationship between PbA and PbB since the phase-out of leaded gasoline. They found that the emission sources for lead have changed, leading to a shift from a fine to a coarse PbA particle size distribution, and show that PbA in coarse airborne particles is a statistically significant predictor of PbB. The PbB levels of children are more sensitive to changes in PbA concentrations than are those of adults.

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